Science has the convoluted story of the prostate-cancer drug that lowers testosterone levels enough that people are willing to try it as a cure for pedophilic impulses, with the help of online donors:
The team is reaching out to the public to collect £38,000 ($53,000) through a campaign launched today on Walacea, a U.K. crowdfunding website for scientific research. They hope to show that the drug, which lowers testosterone levels in the body, will reduce the pedophilic impulses that might cause people to abuse a child. So far, the researchers have recruited “four or five” participants, but they ultimately aim to enroll 60 men, the trial’s principal investigator, Christoffer Rahm, said at a press briefing to announce the campaign in London on Wednesday.
The drug that the team will test is called Firmagon, also known as Degarelix in its injectable form. It belongs to a class called Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) antagonists, meaning that the drug competes with the body’s natural GnRH and binds to its receptors in the brain, which ultimately blocks the production of testosterone in the testes. Currently, the drug—a form of “chemical castration”—is approved only to treat prostate cancer.
Other types of medicines are already prescribed—and sometimes mandated by law—to treat sexual offenders, including other drugs that change testosterone levels and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, a class of antidepressants. But some of these drugs are only effective after several months, and their use is “based on very weak evidence,” Niklas Långström, a psychiatric epidemiologist at KI, said at the press conference.
This is in part because research in this area is rife with complex ethical issues.
Swedish regulators did sign off on a controlled study, however; the KI team plans to give half of the participants a placebo, whereas the other half will receive the drug. To assess its effect, potentially “just 2 weeks after injection and lasting 3 months,” the team will use a series of existing tests to measure three parameters: high sexual arousal, self-regulation, and empathy. Testosterone is involved in regulating these three “most important risk factors for committing repeated sexual abuse,” Rahm said. The study will not measure possible long-term effects on actual criminal offending.
Rahm says he opted for crowdfunding because public funding and a contribution from a private foundation fell short, while the team wanted to remain independent from the drug’s manufacturer, Ferring Pharmaceuticals.