Male birth control pill passes early tests, but doctors cite unknowns

A male birth control pill has passed early safety tests and looks promising, researchers say. But doctors note that unknowns remain about the contraceptive – and the cultural hurdles it may face.

Dr. Christina Wang, a researcher with Los Angeles-based nonprofit LABioMed, presented this week on the drug at an Endocrine Society conference in New Orleans.. The pill “greatly” reduced hormones needed for sperm production in an early study, the society said, but it remains far from final approval.

“Safe, reversible hormonal male contraception should be available in about 10 years,” Wang said in a statement.

Forty men took part in the study at LABioMed and the University of Washington in Seattle. Ten took placebos over a 28-day period, while the rest took dosages of the drug, known as 11-beta-MNTDC.

All 30 who took the drug passed safety tests, the society said. Most who took it reported side effects – 22 men in all. Side effects included slightly decreased sex drive and headaches, but none so bad that a participant stopped taking the drug.

“There were no serious adverse events or significant clinical concerns,” researchers said in an abstract of the study, which was funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

The pill’s development remains “really early,” Wang said.

Why the 10-year wait? More and longer studies are needed to verify the drug’s effectiveness in men and, eventually, in sexually active couples, she said.

Dr. Paul Turek is a male fertility specialist and founder of the Turek Clinic in California. He called the pill’s research “exciting” but not without clear unknowns.

For instance, Turek said: Does the pill actually decrease sperm production or only hormones tied to it? 

“They do not show any effect on sperm,” Turek said of the research. “We have no idea whether sperm will actually drop. And it needs to drop to zero.”

Wang agreed longer testing is needed to verify the drug’s effect on sperm production, which could take up to three months to set in.

And that could prove a barrier for users, said Dr. Bobby B. Najari, director of male fertility at NYU Langone. A pill that takes months to kick in feels less “immediately on and off as female contraception,” he said.

And if users faced a lessened sex drive after only 28 days, what side effects could occur when the pill is used for years? Najari said.

Still, the research is “very exciting,” he said. “This is sort of a wide-open space that is sort of under-researched under-developed.”

So why has the male pill taken so long to develop? Cultural attitudes, Najari suggested.

Woman foremost handle the consequences of an unplanned pregnancy, he said, and so contraceptive solutions – and, perhaps, research dollars for them – have focused largely on women.

That’s led to the idea that men don’t care about birth control for them, Najari said.

“My impression talking to men in the clinic every day is that that’s increasingly changing,” he said. “If that was ever true.”



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