When it comes to birth control, men are rarely trusted to use any form of conventional contraceptive. But there’s a reason scientists are focused on developing a birth control option for men: It might just be the safest, and most effective, method.
“Right now, the only options on the market [for men] are roughly insufficient; there is the vasectomy, which is not reversible, and condoms, which have a pregnancy rate of 18 percent — mainly due to inconsistent use,” explains Aaron Hamlin, executive director of Male Contraception Initiative, a group advocating for the development of birth control options for men.
There’s definitely demand for something better: 52 percent of more than 84,000 respondents in a June survey by the group Telegraph Wonder Women claim they would take the male contraceptive pill if it were available.
“Before 1960, when The Pill hit the market, the condom was the main method, so it was a shared responsibility,” Hamlin points out. The shift toward placing the burden on women when it comes to birth control has had negative consequences for both genders.
At the moment, several promising research studies focusing on different stages of the fertilization process are being carried out across the world. But how close are we to developing a birth control option for men?
“People have been saying ‘10 years from now’ ever since 1980, so I’d rather not repeat that as it is too difficult to tell,” says Dr. David Sokal, MCI’s chairman. “It depends mostly on the funding. We have the technical skills to develop non-hormonal contraceptives, but without resources to do the research it could be 30 years or 50 years.”
We take a look at fourmost promising candidates.
Gendarussa is an herbal contraceptive derived from a shrub that grows in Indonesia. The research team at Airlangga University, Indonesia, has been working on gendarussa for 30 years and so far has not found any side effects.
“Gendarussa has made it to phase two human clinical trials, which is very promising, although it hasn’t been confirmed by other researchers,” explains Sokal. “The exact mechanism is not known, but because the sperm count and motility are reported to be normal, the hypothesis is that it must interfere in some way in the fertilization and work by preventing the sperm’s ability to fertilize an egg.”
Status:Additional trials are still needed to better define the dosage and possible side effects.
North Carolina-basedEppin Pharmais working on a small organic compound that binds to eppin, a protein on the surface of human sperm, resulting in the loss of sperm motility.
“When our contraceptive, EP007, binds to Eppin on the sperm surface, the sperm stop swimming,” explains Michael O’Rand, president of Eppin Pharma.
A study published in 2004 demonstrated that the compound resulted in complete and reversible contraception in male monkeys. The team led by O’Rand believe the non-hormonal drug will be taken orally and on-demand a relatively short time before sexual activity.
Status: “Currently, we are working on determining the drug’s toxicology and beginning non-human primate tests,” the scientist adds.
One relatively new but very promising piece of research focuses on a lead compound identified by Dr. Gary Flynn, a pharmacology researcher at Stanford University. His research is targeting a family of molecules that make up the kinase inhibitor, which prevents proteins from being switched off and has been used to treat cancer.
“He thinks he has found a new kinase inhibitor that only has an effect on the testes and which appears critical to the proper production of sperm,” says Sokal. MCI believes in this line of research so much that it has launcheda crowdfunding campaignto support it.
Status:“It is at a very early stage of the research and needs financial support,” he continues.
A non-hormonal male contraceptive owned by theParsemus Foundation, a medical research organization, Vasalgel is a polymer that’s injected into the man’s sperm-carrying tubes, blocking sperm. One injection would last for years.
“Vasalgel will be a long-acting, reversible contraceptive, like an IUD or implant for women,” explains Sokal. “The goal is basically to offer a reversible vasectomy.”
Status:Medical trials will begin in 2016, but “to get approval for a use of five years, you have to do a study that lasts five years. And to get approval for a reversible vasectomy, you need to wait until you have enough men who have had the procedure successfully reversed,” Sokal says, which means the earliest Vasalgel could hit the market is 2020.