A male contraceptive pill has moved one step closer after scientists revealed an experimental oral contraceptive was showing promise.
In what has been described as a “major step forward”, the taken once-a-day pill was successfully tested on 83 men for a month by researchers at the University of Washington.
Like most female contraceptive pills, the pill, called dimethandrolone undecanoate, or DMAU, contains a combination of hormones – an androgen such as testosterone, and a progestin.
The new form of contraception works by lowering levels of testosterone and two hormones required for sperm production.
As a result men taking it don’t produce enough sperm to get their partners pregnant.
Until now efforts to create a once-daily pill to mimic the mainstream female contraceptive have been unsuccessful because men metabolise and clear out the hormones it delivers too quickly.
But this particular pill also includes the long-chain fatty acid undecanoate, which slows the drug’s passage through the body, meaning men can take it once a day.
What’s more, side effects that have persisted in previous attempts to create a male pill, such as liver damage or low sex drive, were also generally absent after the month-long trial.
The experiment involved 100 healthy men aged 18 to 50 who took the pill with food for a month and gave blood samples on the first and last days to test for hormones and cholesterol.
Of the 83 who completed the study, most suffered no fatigue or loss of libido and the highest dose tested, 400mg, caused “marked suppression” of testosterone and two hormones needed to create sperm.
All participants also reported good liver and kidney function, but the results also showed that the pill worked only if taken with food.
Commenting on the results, which were presented yesterday at the Endocrine Society’s annual conference, professor Stephanie Page, senior investigator on the study said: “Despite having low levels of circulating testosterone, very few subjects reported symptoms consistent with testosterone deficiency or excess.”
“These promising results are unprecedented in the development of a prototype male pill.”
“DMAU is a major step forward in the development of a once-daily ‘male pill’,” Professor Page continued.
“Many men say they would prefer a daily pill as a reversible contraceptive, rather than long-acting injections or topical gels, which are also in development.”
The male pill comes almost 70 years after the introduction of the contraceptive pill for women (although the pill has only been available on the NHS since 1961).
Other than condoms, which were first invented way back in 1855, there has never been a temporary male contraceptive, so if the male pill does continue to perform well in trials it could be a huge breakthrough in contraception.
Whether or not men would take it or women would trust them to remains to be seen.
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