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KU News Release

June 20, 2005
Contact: Dan Lara, University Relations, (785) 864-8855.

KU researchers win $8M NIH contract to find compounds for male contraception


NOTE: Gunda Georg is pronouned "GOON-da gee-ORG."

LAWRENCE -- Researchers at the University of Kansas and the University of Kansas Medical Center have won an almost $8 million National Institutes of Health contract to find chemical compounds to develop into reversible male contraceptives that do not rely on steroids or affect bodily hormones.

The five-year contract will allow the scientists from the two campuses to continue research and testing started in partnership with the NIH four years ago that has led to the development of promising chemical compounds. The KU team is one of only a few research groups in the world working to develop male contraceptives.

" We are in partnership with the NIH to develop chemical compounds that can eventually be turned into safe, effective and reversible male contraceptives," said Gunda Georg, lead researcher on the project. "The NIH awarded this research contract to us because of the interdisciplinary and collaborative nature of our team, as well as the technology and laboratories KU and KUMC have for testing."

Georg is also director for the Center for Drug Discovery at the Higuchi Biosciences Center on the Lawrence campus. The other primary members of her team are Joseph Tash, associate professor of molecular and integrative physiology at KUMC; Qi-Zhuang Ye, research professor at the Higuchi Biosciences Center; and Ernst Schonbrunn, assistant professor of medicinal chemistry.

In its work under the previous NIH contract, the KU team identified a chemical compound they named Gamendazole that caused temporary infertility in male rats by affecting sperm production, Georg said. Gamendazole, on which KU has filed a patent application, emerged from more than 100 compounds tested.

" The KU team has identified a dose of Gamendazole that caused 75 percent of the rats to lose fertility in week three after taking the compound and 100 percent of the rats to become completely infertile in week four and five," Georg said. "Partial fertility begins to return to the rats in week six."

The group also focused on finding novel inhibitors of key enzymes that either have an important role in sperm development or motility, Georg said. Finding chemical compounds to temporarily deactivate the enzymes so that the sperm do not fully develop or cannot move to cause pregnancy is the key objective of the research.

"We need to find compounds that are potent, selective and can be developed to be taken orally," said Tash. "We do not want a compound to affect other enzymes in the body. We want to specifically target the right enzyme and nothing else."

As part of the new NIH contract, hundreds of thousands of compounds will be tested on the key enzymes to see which ones might affect them. About 100,000 of those compounds will come from KU. The NIH will supply the rest.

KU was able to win the contract, in part, because of the research facilities available at the university, including the High Throughput Screening Laboratory, under the direction of Ye and a part of the Life Sciences Research Laboratories at 1501 Wakarusa Drive. While High Throughput Screening (HTS) technology is more common in private industry, KU is one of the few universities in the nation to have one, Georg and Schonbrunn said. Without the HTS lab, screening hundreds of thousands of compounds could take up to a year, but with the technology, screening time is dramatically reduced.

All the testing of compounds to date has taken place with rats and in test tubes. In the case of Gamendazole, human clinical trials could take place in three to four years with the approval of federal regulators.

" Through our research, we now know a great deal more about the male reproductive system," Tash said. "We know what we might be able to do in this area and what enzymes we can target. The science has come to the point that we can say with some confidence that a reversible male contraceptive can be developed."

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The University of Kansas is a major comprehensive research and teaching university. University Relations is the central public relations office for KU's Lawrence campus.

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