A Male Birth Control Pill Could Begin Human Trials Soon

A new non-hormonal birth control pill for those with male reproductive organs was 99% effective against unwanted pregnancy in mice. Could it possibly be approved for humans in the future?

Close up of man taking meds/ supplements / medicine
Photo: Getty Images/Basak Gurbuz Derman

With the exception of male condoms, most contraceptive methods are designed for people with ovaries and uteruses. Think birth control pills, intrauterine devices (IUDS), patches, shots, implants, and more. In fact, the only other option for male contraception, besides condoms, is the more permanent choice to have a vasectomy.

This might change in the future, though, because scientists at the University of Minnesota are beginning human trials on a new non-hormonal form of birth control (currently called YCT529) designed for those with testes. Trials have shown the pill is 99% effective against pregnancy in mice, but it's unclear how these results will translate to humans.

"Scientists have been trying for decades to develop an effective male oral contraceptive, but there are still no approved pills on the market," says Md Abdullah Al Noman, graduate student in the lab of Gunda Georg, Ph.D., at the University of Minnesota, in a press release for the American Chemical Society. "We wanted to develop a non-hormonal male contraceptive to avoid these side effects."

Researchers will begin human clinical trials in the "third or fourth quarter of 2022," according to the press release. Here's the latest new about the pill's safety profile, effectiveness, and if/when it could hit the market.

How Does the Male Birth Control Pill Work?

Traditional hormonal birth control pills include the female hormones estrogen, progesterone, or both. They work by preventing sperm from meeting the egg in numerous ways: stopping ovulation (the release of an egg), changing cervical mucus to make it less hospitable to sperm, and/or thinning the lining of the uterus so a fertilized egg won't implant in it.

The new non-hormonal birth control pill, designed for those with male reproductive organs, works in a totally different way. Unlike previous attempts to create male contraceptives, it doesn't affect testosterone levels at all. Instead, it blocks proteins from binding to vitamin A, which is essential for fertility in mammals.

So far, the research has only been conducted on rodents but has had startlingly positive results. After four weeks of oral dosing, mice "showed drastically lower sperm counts," according to The New York Times. Specifically, the pill was 99% effective in preventing pregnancy in mice.

The mice also rebounded to normal levels of virility within four to six weeks after stopping the drug, and researchers didn't notice any obvious side effects. (This doesn't mean side effects don't exist, though, because mice can't exactly comment on things like mood swings and fatigue).

Still, it's important to note that many experts are skeptical. That's because humans and mice have different gene interactions and reproductive systems, says The New York Times, and the mice study results won't necessarily translate to humans.

Haven't We Been Here Before?

If this sounds like old news to you, it's possibly because we have heard rumbling about a contraceptive pill for men for decades—but as of yet, none have made it to the market. Previous attempts to create male birth control focused on blocking or decreasing testosterone, which can have other side effects, including depression. (A contraceptive gel for people with testes, which is applied to the shoulders and upper arms to suppress sperm creation, is currently undergoing human trials.)

This new non-hormonal contraceptive is different and seems to tick all the important boxes. In mice, it appears to be effective and reversible, without any obvious side effects. If it becomes available down the line, it will allow people with male reproductive organs to take responsibility and ownership over their fertility choices.

When Might a Male Birth Control Become Available?

Heather Vahdat, the executive director of the nonprofit Male Contraceptive Initiative, which funded the University of Minnesota study, told The New York Times that she doesn't expect a male birth control for at least 10 years. She also reiterated that successful trials in mice don't necessarily translate to successful trials in humans. That said, the results of the trial will be important, and they could signal a groundbreaking invention for contraceptive methods.

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