Male birth control pill that’s safe and effective inches closer to being a reality

A new drug called DMAU was effective, safe and didn't cause harm to a man's sex drive, researchers found. Getty Images

Researchers are one step closer in developing a male contraceptive pill that’s safe and effective, according to a new clinical trial.

The birth control pill, called dimethandrolone undecanoate or DMAU, was found to work when taken daily for a month, Science Daily reports.

The study, which was published in The Endocrine Society, was presented over the weekend at ENDO 2018, the society’s annual meeting in Chicago.

Senior researcher, Stephanie Page, tells Global News there has also been progress with gel and injection types of male birth control in the past.

“There’s been probably now 40 years of work developing a male contraceptive, but very little has been directed at a pill,” she says.

READ MORE: This is what the future of male birth control looks like

Understanding contraceptives

Page says the reason why it’s harder to develop contraceptives for men is because of how hormones like testosterone function. Some oral contraceptives have been available for a while, but could cause liver inflammation and need to be taken two to three times a day.

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“There’s been other challenges with the male biology,” she says. “Men are making 1,000 sperm per second and women ovulate one or two eggs a month. There’s some challenges on how to block sperm production.”

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She adds the question still comes down to side effects. “Our goal is to minimize side effects, so we’re hopeful this molecule will have fewer side effects. The question is what side effects are tolerable?”

For women, side effects of the pill can include everything from bloating to increased appetite to lower sex drive. There have also been some versions of the pill that have put women at risk for developing blood clots, Cosmopolitan reports. But not all side effects were bad. Some benefits included clearer skin, mood improvements and less pain during sex, the magazine said.

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Page adds the goal for a male birth control pill is to also have health benefits.

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The pill

She adds besides side effects, other oral forms of testosterone clear the body too quickly — which is why men would need to take more than one dose.

DMAU combines androgen (a male hormone) and a progestin, and has a long-chain fatty acid that slows down this process.

READ MORE: Birth control for men: Is there gender inequality in health research?

The clinical trial included 100 men between the ages of 18 and 50, and 83 men in total completed the full study. Researchers at the University of Washington Medical Center and at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center tested three doses of DMAU and two formulas inside the capsules made of castor oil and powder.

“Each dose group included five subjects who were randomly assigned to receive an inactive placebo and another 12 to 15 men who received DMAU. Subjects took the drug or placebo for 28 days once daily with food. DMAU must be taken with food to be effective,” researchers noted in a statement.

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Researchers found at the highest dose of DMAU (400 mg), participants showcased “marked suppression” of testosterone levels and two other hormones needed for the production of sperm.

And while Page adds this is good news, it’s still a small sample size and researchers are still in the early stages of development.

READ MORE: Male birth control study halted due to ‘mood swings’ in participants

“We have lots of work to do to ensure this is safe,” she says. “We need to do bigger studies on more participants … in five to 10 years [we could be] in the market.”

Previously, health professionals have tried everything from non-hormonal pills to suspensories to help lower sperm count. And more recently, a study of male birth control injections was halted in 2016 after participants complained about side effects.

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The injection, which was a mix of progestogen and androgen, had a 96 per cent success rate. However, participants complained of depression, mood disorders and muscle pain. Page told Global News in 2017 some of the depressive symptoms were concerning, including suicidal thoughts.

Changing attitudes

And Page adds more and more men (and their partners) are open to the idea of male contraceptives.

She says in previous multi-national surveys that asked men if they would be willing to take a contraceptive that was safe, most of them said yes.

“People are really interested in this. … We’re selling men short when we say they won’t take it,” she says. “It’s about controlling their own fertility.”
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— with files from Marilisa Racco

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