Male Birth Control Pill Could Be 10 Years Away

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Scientists are working on developing a male birth control pill. Getty Images

Scientists believe a male birth control pill could be about a decade away from rollout, after a drug was found to suppress the hormones that play an important role in the production of sperm.

After the the men in the study took the pill for a month, scientists confirmed that it seemed safe and had minimal side effects, and that its effects were reversible. But the team had yet to test whether it successfully prevented pregnancy.

Its creators described the drug as "modified testosterone," in which the hormones androgen and progesterone worked together. The pill works by suppressing the hormones that control the function of the testis and sperm production, Dr. Christina Wang, a professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and co-author of the study, told Newsweek. Those are endogenous testosterone and gonadotropin.

Wang explained in a statement: "Our results suggest that this pill, which combines two hormonal activities in one, will decrease sperm production while preserving libido.

"Safe, reversible hormonal male contraception should be available in about 10 years," she said.

For the study, researchers recruited 40 healthy men between the ages of 18 and 50 and randomly placed them into one of three groups. Thirty men were given the prototype contraceptive drug called 11-beta-methyl-19-nortestosterone dodecylcarbonate (11-beta-MNTDC). Of those, 14 were given a 200 milligram dose, while 16 got 400 milligrams. The remainder acted as the control group and were given a placebo pill. The men visited a lab twice a week for tests to ensure the drug was safe.

All 40 men took the pill they were assigned for 28 consecutive days. The team collected blood samples from the men on day one and day 28 of the study. The participants also filled out questionnaires on their mood and sexual function at the start and conclusion of the study.

Dr. Stephanie Page, study co-author and a professor of medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine, explained in a statement: "11-beta-MNTDC mimics testosterone through the rest of the body, but is not concentrated enough in the testes to support sperm production."

According to the researchers, the pill was "well tolerated" by the men: All of them completed their full course of drugs. The participants also did not experience any serious side effects, although some experienced tiredness, headaches, acne, decreased libido and mild erectile dysfunction. The men also experienced weight gain, at 0.6 kilograms for the placebo group, 1.3 kilograms for those dosed at 200 miligrams, and 1.9 kilograms on average for the 400 miligram group.

Next, the drug must be tested for longer periods of time to show it can suppress the production of sperm, Wang told Newsweek. The team is also developing other male contraceptive pills, including a reversible long-acting injectable and a patch, she said. The best one will reach the market, the team hopes.

The findings were presented at the Endocrine Society 2019 meeting in New Orleans, and have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Dr. Christopher Barratt, a professor of Reproductive Medicine at the University of Dundee who was not involved in the study, told Newsweek: "This double-blind placebo controlled trial provides important data in healthy men of the potential acceptability and safety of this prodrug. It will be important to know how effective the compound is in live trials and the potential negative side effect on sexual desire may cause some cause for concern."

The study is the latest in a string of attempts to develop a male contraceptive pill. At the moment, men have two options: the condom or a vasectomy.

Earlier this year, the same team published a separate study of a different compound called dimethandrolone undecanoate (DMAU) in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. The findings were first presented at the Endocrine Society's annual meeting in Chicago. And last year, research published in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry investigated the toxic substance ouabain as a potential basis for the male birth control pill.

In 2016, the team behind a study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology assessed the effectiveness of the shot. A total of 20 men quit the study because of the side effects of the drug.

This article has been updated with comment from Professor Christopher Barratt.