It’s been over sixty years since the first female birth control pill was introduced to consumer markets, but scientists and pharmaceutical companies still haven’t cracked the code on an viable version of the pill for men. Finally, however, a new study on a prospective male birth control pill has found the drug to be both safe and effective, leaving researchers optimistic that male contraception could soon arrive.
The month-long stage 1 study comes from University of Washington Medical Center and Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, and looks at a new experimental birth control pill named dimethandrolone undecanoate (DMAU for short). On March 18, lead researcher Stephanie Page, M.D., PhD, presented its results at the Endocrine Society’s annual meeting, ENDO 2018.
The promising results signal more than just another advancement in medicine—they point to a possible paradigm shift around the ways we go about birth control. Historically, women have been largely responsible for the mental, physical, and financial costs of pregnancy prevention, and men who want to help have been offered little options beyond wearing a condom. For example, Vasalgel, one of the most promising methods for male birth control in development, requires a penis injection of pregnancy-preventing gel in order to work.
DMAU is a combination hormone pill, similar to many pre-existing women’s once-daily hormonal birth control pills. While women’s birth control pills combine estrogen with a steroid hormone, however, DMAU replaces estrogen with testosterone.
While a 2016 study on a possible male birth control pill was halted early due to male participants’ complaints of side effects such as mood swings and acne, 83 of the 100 male participants of the DMAU Stage 1 study stuck it out until the end of the month-long survey.
The study tested three different doses of DMAU—100, 200, and 400 milligrams—and two different formulations of DMAU capsules on the participants. According to a statement released by the Endocrine Society, men who were given the highest dose of the pill—400 milligrams—showed “marked suppression” of their testosterone and two other hormones required for sperm production. The 100 and 200 milligram doses were not as immediately effective.
Past studies into male hormonal birth control pills have shown that orally-ingested testosterone can cause liver inflammation and clear the body too quickly, requiring two doses of a drug a day, according to the Endocrine Society’s statement. DMAU, however, passed safety tests on kidney functions during the trial. And in order to slow down the orally ingested testosterone, the pill was formulated with undecanoate, a long-chain fatty acid that slows the breakdown of testosterone within the body, allowing for a one-a-day drug dosage.
But men taking DMAU will not be immune to the many side effects of hormonal birth control, already familiar to women on the pill. According to the study results, all men taking the pill, at any dosage level, experienced weight gain and decreases in HDL cholesterol. However, in the Endocrine Society statement , Page described the changes as “mild.”
“These promising results are unprecedented in the development of a prototype pill,” said Page. Now, Page and her team are working on longer-term studies to further confirm DMAU’s ability to block sperm production. Hopefully we’ll see a male contraceptive pill on the market soon.