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an effective male contraceptive pill available by the end of the year?

Have you heard the story about the time when (in 2016) The World Health Organization commissioned a promising (96% effective!) male contraception trial but was stopped after some reported side effects (acne, increased libido, and mood swings)?

So, after years of trying to develop an effective new way to prevent pregnancies, we were back to condoms and vasectomy as the only contraceptive methods available for men.

The available research on the subject reveals that up to 83% of men actually want the pill. But with certain conditions. If it’s cheap and available, easy to use, free of serious side effects, and reversible — they’ll take it.

And science has listened to our men.

First, non-hormonal — hence side-effects free — ‘male birth control pill’ could be developed by the end of this year.

The new preliminary research done on mice showed astonishing results.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota (UMN) say they’ve developed a non-hormonal form of male birth control, one that kept lab mice sterile for four to six weeks with seemingly no side effects. Early human trials of the pill are expected to begin in a few months.

The proposed contraceptive works by targeting how our bodies interact with vitamin A, known to be essential to fertility in mammals (vitamin A deficient diets have been linked with sterility!).

After a lengthy search, the team found an experimental compound that blocks a protein responsible for binding to a form of vitamin A (retinoic acid) in our cells, known as retinoic acid receptor alpha (RAR-α). RAR-α is one of three proteins with a similar function, and the hope is that its selective blocking is enough to induce long-lasting but reversible sterility while causing little to no side effects.

Most of the previously proposed options for male contraception (from pills and rub-in gels to injections, switches, and even magnets) were targeting testosterone. The main “problem” with this method was: side effects like higher cholesterol or lower sex drive.

The UMN team thinks their treatment could skate past these concerns, which could make it a more appealing option:

“Since men do not have to suffer the consequences of pregnancy, the threshold for side effects from birth control pills is rather low. That’s why we’re trying to develop nonhormonal birth control pills to avoid hormonal side effects”, Abdullah al Noman from UMN said.

So far, the new compound GPHR-529 seems to work as planned, even though it looks like a license plate number.

The team found that male mice — dosed with the treatment for four weeks — consistently experienced a sharp drop in sperm count.

Overall, GPHR-529 was estimated to be 99% effective in preventing pregnancy, with no noticeable side effects.

After about four to six weeks after they stopped taking ‘the pill’, the male mice were no longer sterile.

“This all looks promising so far. But clinical trials are the definitive test for the safety of any drug candidate,” Noman noted.

Richard Anderson at the University of Edinburgh says the absence of side effects in mice doesn’t guarantee that the drug will be safe in humans.

“If you were developing a drug that’s targeting a completely novel pathway, I think it would be appropriate to be cautious about safety when there isn’t a track record in that field.”

The vitamin A signaling system plays a number of important roles in bodily systems. “It seems to me inherently unlikely that a compound with such activity would be free of side effects,” says Richard Sharpe, also at the University of Edinburgh.


Stats for nerds:
/ A non-hormonal pill could soon expand men’s birth control options
/ The First Clinical Trial of a Male Birth Control Gel Is Under Way
/ Study of Daily Application of Nestorone® (NES) and Testosterone (T) Combination Gel for Male Contraception

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