Bill Gates has donated more than £700,000 to a Scottish university to help research a male contraceptive drug.

The Microsoft founder donated $929,585 (£727,093) to the University of Dundee through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Researchers believe the funding boost will help make significant headway in the discovery and development of the first safe male contraceptive drug.

The University of Dundee has internationally recognised expertise in male fertility research in the School of Medicine.

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And it also has world-class robotic high-throughput imaging facilities at the National Phenotypic Screening Centre.

Chris Barratt, professor of reproductive medicine in the school of medicine, said: “No effective, reversible and widely available form of contraception has been developed for the male since the condom and, as such, the burden falls largely to the female.

“Progress towards a male contraceptive has been slow because this is a highly neglected area of medical research.

"The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has quite rightly recognised the problem and is investing in efforts to remedy the deficit.

"This is against the backdrop of a world where it is estimated that more than 214 million women in developing countries have an unmet need for contraception.

“According to the Guttmacher Institute, this results in 89 million unintended pregnancies and 48 million abortions every year, often pushing women into life choices that increase poverty and pose severe health risks.

"The development of a drug for the male directly addresses a critical gap in the contraceptive portfolio.”

The university possesses extensive expertise in drug design, synthesis and safety testing present in the Drug Discovery Unit, both within the School of Life Sciences.

Dr Paul Andrews, director of operations in the National Phenotypic Screening Centre (NPSC), believes it is “a significant challenge".

But he says he believes the university has the expertise to develop the drug.

With the first round of funding from the Foundation, the university has established the means to screen thousands of known drugs and new chemical compounds.

This will offer researchers vital insight into the behaviours - or phenotypes - that are fundamental to fertility.

It involves, firstly, their ability to swim up the female reproductive tract and, secondly, a cellular process in the head of the sperm which must happen for the cell to progress towards the egg.

Mr Andrews said: "Our screening efforts so far have shown such drugs exist.

“With this follow-on funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation our next objective is to continue the hunt and carefully select the most effective molecules that have the right combination of properties that will make them good candidates for further development into a drug that can be safely taken by males.

"Drug development is a complicated and lengthy process but we aim to deliver one or two small molecule chemical series that fulfill these criteria within two years.

“This goal will be an important milestone along the path to a male contraceptive and a prerequisite for further development and clinical evaluation.”

The Dundee team was initially funded for one year through the Grand Challenges Explorations initiative, created by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support innovative thinkers tackle global health and development challenges.

The new award is for £727,093 over two years.