The group has received a thumbsup from almost every major animal welfare group in the nation, if not the world. Its website is a virtual “Who’s Who” in support letters from everyone from the ASPCA and HSUS to WSPA. Likewise, its board of directors and scientific advisory board include leading experts in animal welfare, animal health, veterinary medicine, international dog and cat population control, regulatory processes and public health. And then there’s its partnership with billionaire businessman turned animal advocate, Dr. Gary Michelson, whose Found Animals Foundation has pledged a $25 million award to any scientist or company who can crack the code, and $50 million in grants to advance promising work.
“This gift has made a dramatic difference in terms of the number of laboratories involved and the range of approaches being undertaken,” says Stephen L. Zawistowski, PhD, CAAB, science advisor for the ASPCA and member of ACC&D’s board of directors. He notes that the focus had been squarely on a hormonal approach, something akin to the pill for women, but now, multiple biological mechanisms are being considered. “I think the most exciting thing is that we now have people concentrating on [nonsurgical sterilization], whereas over the past 20 years, people worked on it, but on the back bench. Now it’s on the front bench.”
Briggs is bent on keeping it there. Part of ACC&D’s mission is to reach beyond traditional animal-health circles, appealing to researchers in diverse disciplines who have fresh eyes and approaches to a problem they didn’t even know existed. Two recent ACC&D-sponsored think tanks, for instance, brought together a diverse group of top academics, senior scientists at biotech companies, cancer researchers and specialists in infectious diseases. “What we found in the think tanks is that people were fascinated by the intellectual curiosity of the whole thing,” says Briggs.
To brilliant minds seeking new challenges, this one’s a doozy. It means taking on tens of thousands of years of biological and evolutionary forces focused on a single objective: continuing the species. So effective and multitiered is the reproductive system that the moment one element is knocked out, another moves in to compensate.
“We’re trying to overcome the most potent force of nature — the essence of life,” says Julie Levy, DVM, director of Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “Reproductive success drives evolution, so reproductive forces are the strongest biological factors [in] any species. That’s why no one has figured this out yet — it’s hard.”
Levy, who has been researching contraception in cats for the last eight years, now oversees clinical trials of promising products, including a vaccine formulation that was originally developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to humanely manage wildlife populations, such as wolves and deer. GonaCon™ worked in about 75 percent of cats for two-and-a-half years, but fell to 27 percent at five years. In dogs, however, it tended to cause infection at the injection site. Levy is trying to make it both more effective and safer.
Another product being used in the field is an injectable sterilant for male dogs called EsterilSol™, which has U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval (under the name Neutersol®) for dogs age three to 10 months. ACC&D has helped fund projects using EsterilSol in dogs from three months to adult in Guatemala, the Galapagos, the Dominican Republic and the Samoan Islands. Data reported back by grantees help increase knowledge on best practices in EsterilSol use. The price for EsterilSol can be as little as four dollars per dog (or even lower for small dogs), and only light sedation is needed to inject the drug. As many as 200 male dogs can be treated in just several hours. Moreover, maintaining an intact male dog (with its male parts and behaviors!) helps overcome cultural objections to the perceived emasculating effects of castration.