Monday, October 22, 2012

Oh, Carl! Djerassi pours some serious cold water on male contraception

A couple weeks ago, Michael Torrice published an interesting article on the current state of research towards male contraceptives. Pretty mundane, right? Well, good ol' Carl Djerassi decides to weigh in in the letters section of this week's C&EN -- and boy, is he ticked (emphasis mine):
...The biggest problem is the fact that the reproductive span of a young man is two to three times longer than that of a 20-year-old woman, who, for instance, will not ask whether continued use of her Pill would affect her fertility at age 55 or even later, whereas many a 20-year-old man would require a guaranteed answer before he would reach for his Pill. 
Providing an epidemiologically valid assurance to this and other concerns, notably with respect to sexual potency, would be exceedingly expensive, time-consuming, and open to all kinds of litigious pressures because erectile dysfunction and prostate gland problems increase with advanced age and would be blamed by many men on their Pill rather than on the facts of life. 
This economic reality has led the pharmaceutical industry to totally abandon any work on male contraception. And it is invariably glossed over through shameless grantsmanship or shameful naïveté by academic scientists who in their animal research at times make some exciting scientific observation that they then prognosticate as a practical and reversible new male contraceptive in humans, ignoring the fact that such work would take easily two or more decades (thus cannibalizing any patent protection) and cost well over $1 billion in today’s dollars for realization. Who, exactly, would foot that bill? 
Carl Djerassi
San Francisco
Perhaps I'm a sunny-eyed optimist, but that something is simply not economically practical at the moment is no reason for the government not to throw a couple of megabucks at it, right? It's difficult not to see Dr. Djerassi's letter as a teeny-tiny bit of legacy protection. That said, he's far wiser, experienced and knowledgeable about this subject than I will ever be... so there's that.


  1. What's the quote? If an eminent scientist says a thing is possible, then he is almost certainly right but the eminent scientist says a thing is impossible, he is almost certainly wrong.

  2. Carl (who is my scientific grandfather) has an ego only slightly smaller than the mass of a white dwarf star.

  3. Go write some more "science-in-fiction" Carl.