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Many women swear by the effectiveness of “the pill.” These hormonal drugs can prevent unwanted pregnancies by stopping ovulation, and thus, fertilization of egg and sperm. This, in turn, could help couples make informed decisions in practicing safe sex and family planning.

But in matters such as these, why should girls (or should we say boys) have all the fun?

From a progressive standpoint, and in an allusion to gender equality for safe sex, a birth control pill for men could well be on its way into the market. In fact, in 2012, experts at the American Medical Journal of Ethics argued the issue by saying — an all-female birth control pill would only increase women’s financial and health burdens further, apart from diminishing the “reproductive autonomy of men.”

In the last few years, some researchers focussed their efforts on developing hormone-based strategies for male contraception. But these methods proved unsuccessful due to their undesirable side effects on male sexual activity and long-term fertility.

However, research conducted in 2013 by the scientists at Monash University, Australia, demonstrated that male contraception, via an orally administered product, could be viable, as they observed in mice. The paper, published in the PNAS journal, describes the drug targeting a certain area of the nervous system. Most importantly, no adverse effects on the general health of males was detected.

Now, US researchers from the University of Washington’s School of Medicine and Los Angeles’ Biomed Research Institute (LA BioMed), picking up from the previous research, created and tested out their latest male birth control pill, in a Phase 1 trial, on a group of healthy men.

They observed the pill to be ‘safe,’ ‘effective’ and ‘tolerable’ by these individuals. The results were presented at the Endocrine Society’s annual meeting in New Orleans on March 24, 2019.

The study and the development of the male contraceptive were funded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Developing a Birth Control Pill Suitable for Men

The study’s main goal was to check for the response and safety of the drug in question, rather than to test its ability to prevent pregnancy.

Forty healthy men, between the ages of 18 and 50, participated in the trial. Randomly, 10 of them were given a placebo, and the rest received the contraceptive pill, 11-beta-MNTDC (11-beta-methyl-19-nortestosterone dodecylcarbonate), in two different doses — 14 were administered 200 mg, and 16 men got 400 mg. The participants took their respective drugs (placebo or pill), once daily, for a period of 28 days.

Co-author of the paper and the Associate Director of the Clinical and Translational Science Institute at LA BioMed, Christina Wang, explained that this male contraceptive was developed as a combination of modified testosterone and androgen.

It was observed from the results of the investigation that in the participants, who were administered the 11-beta-MNTDC, testosterone levels dropped, compared to those who had taken the placebo.

Only a few of the men (4-6) experienced minor side effects such as fatigue, acne, and headaches. There was, overall, no severe side effects from the drug — some reported decreased sex drive and mild erectile dysfunction, but their respective sexual activities remained intact. Also, it was understood that none of the participants stopped taking the drug because of any side effects.

In the latest male contraceptive pill study, 11-beta-MNTDC was seen to be tolerated by healthy males. (Source: Stock Image/Paul Grover)

In the latest male contraceptive pill study, 11-beta-MNTDC was seen to be tolerated by healthy males. (Source: Stock Image/Paul Grover)

In addition, it was recorded that the effects of the drug were reversible after treatment was stopped. Therefore, the researchers of this paper concluded that 11-beta-MNTDC was safe for administration.

Furthermore, co-senior investigator, Stephanie Page of the University of Washington School of Medicine described the mechanism of action of the male birth control pill. She said, “11-beta-MNTDC mimics testosterone through the rest of the body but is not concentrated enough in the testes to support sperm production.”

Wang predicts that safe male contraception, by way of hormones such as the pill, should become available to the public in about ten years.

Top Image: A male birth control pill, developed and tested on healthy men, was found to be safe and tolerable by them. (Source: Pixabay)

References

  1. Birth Control Pill, Planned Parenthood, https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control/birth-control-pill, (accessed Apr 10, 2019)
  2. This Male Birth Control Pill Has Just Been Shown Safe in Humans For The First Time, 2019, ScienceAlert, https://www.sciencealert.com/a-new-male-birth-control-pill-has-been-found-to-be-safe-in-its-first-major-test, (accessed Apr 11, 2019)
  3. White, C. W. et al. (2013), Male contraception via simultaneous knockout of α1A adrenoceptors and P2X1-purinoceptors in mice, PNAS, 110 (51), Pp 20825-20830
  4. Male Birth Control Pill Passes Human Safety Tests, 2019, Technology Networks, https://www.technologynetworks.com/drug-discovery/news/male-birth-control-pill-passes-human-safety-tests-317223, (accessed Apr 11, 2019)
  5. A male birth control pill would bring gender equality to safe sex, 2019, Quartz, https://qz.com/1581118/a-male-birth-control-pill-worked-in-a-study-using-human-subjects/, (accessed Apr 12, 2019)
  6. New male birth control pill passes human safety tests in small trial, 2019, TimesLive, https://www.timeslive.co.za/sunday-times/lifestyle/health-and-sex/2019-03-26-new-male-birth-control-pill-passes-human-safety-tests-in-small-trial/, (accessed Apr 12, 2019)
  7. A Male Contraceptive Pill Can Be Ready Surprisingly Soon, Scientists Say, 2018, ScienceAlert, https://www.sciencealert.com/male-contraceptive-pill-hormone-free-monash-adrenoceptor-purinoceptor, (accessed Apr 13, 2019)
  8. Contraceptive Justice: Why We Need a Male Pill, 2012, AMA Journal of Ethics, https://journalofethics.ama-assn.org/article/contraceptive-justice-why-we-need-male-pill/2012-02, (accessed Apr 13, 2019) 

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Meghna Rao, MSc

A postgraduate in Bioscience with work experience in research and communications in the fields of science, health and medicine. Her specializations include writing and developing scientific material for websites, blogs, and other print and digital media, content curation and management, and medical proofreading and editing. She also has a fair knowledge in marketing communications and science journalism. Also, Meghna is passionate about yoga, working with non-profits and travel blogging. Read More

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