Infertility is a significant global problem affecting approximately 210 million people worldwide. The problem is increasing and the global infertility drugs market is expected to reach an estimated value of over $3.3bn by 2017, and the devices market a value of $1.4bn (www.transparencymarketresearch.com) Sperm dysfunction, and in particular poor sperm motility, has consistently been identified as the single most common cause of male infertility. Remarkably, there are no drugs a man can take, or have added to his spermatozoa, to improve or treat this condition. The only option is ART, yet sperm dysfunction impacts negatively on success rate. Identification of compounds able to increase numbers of functional sperm could significantly impact on the treatment of male infertility.
An extensive programme carried out by the Drug Discovery Unit at the University of Dundee has successfully identified several FDA-approved drugs that have a robust and effective stimulation on sperm motility. The compounds show remarkable longevity in their effect, are non-toxic and stimulate motility to a biologically and functionally significant level. Importantly, a positive response has also been demonstrated on a small target patient sample (23 patients) spanning the spectrum of mild to severe sperm dysfunction. Increasing the number of functional sperm in the vicinity of the egg will increase the probability of fertilisation and could have a marked increase on the success rates and accessibility of ART. This novel approach would allow treatment of dysfunctional sperm in vitro rather than treating the person in vivo – greatly simplifying the development package and permitting quick translation to the clinic. The addition of a stimulating compound to sperm is easily incorporated into current practice and adds no time or complexity to the procedure.