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Male contraceptive pill 99% effective in mice yet to be tested in humans

For many years, women have taken contraceptives to prevent pregnancies but on occasions when these contraceptives fail to do the job for which it was taken there have been some misunderstandings between the couples with the men sometimes accusing the women of ‘trapping’ them with pregnancies.

It is therefore not surprising that a report about a male contraceptive pill is beginning to generate some amount of interest even from women as can be seen here.

One of the comments on the post stated: “Shouldn’t this have been in existence years ago?? A woman can only get preggy once in 9months. A man can impregnate a woman everyday. Who needs contraceptives the most?”

So what is the state of the male contraceptive?

Researchers at the University of Minnesota and University of Edinburgh have begun developing a male birth control contraceptive which has so far proven to be highly effective and safe, with less side effects.

Although they are yet to begin the human trials after the pills tested 99% effective in mice, the news about it have been published in many international online platforms, including France24, SkyNews, NewScientist, euronews.next and Smithsonianmag.com.

On Wednesday, March 23, 2022, the lead researchers, Md Abdullah al Noman and Richard Anderson presented their findings at the spring meeting of the American Chemical Society, following a successful test of the pills on mice for a period of four weeks.

Currently, it cannot be confirmed whether the contraceptive pill will be effective in male humans as it did in mice. This is because the team will begin human clinical trials in the second half of the year, either during the third or the fourth quarter of 2022.

It is, therefore, worth pointing out that there is no such male plan ‘b’ pill readily available on the market which can prevent pregnancy after a sexual intercourse.

How does this new contraceptive work?

The male contraceptive pill is non-hormonal and is said to have fewer side effects, unlike others that target the male sex hormone testosterone and could lead to a weight gain, depression and other health implications.

According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, the expression – non-hormonal – means anything “not relating to, utilising, or caused by hormones.” Since this contraceptive is non-hormonal, it is very unlikely to affect the hormones of the men who use it; neither will it affect the hormones of the women.

Because of its nature, the researchers used a protein known as retinoic acid receptor alpha (RAR-α) which has the capability to bind retinoic acid, a form of Vitamin A that plays critical roles in cell growth and embryonic development. It is, therefore, able to knock out the RAR-α gene in male mice, making them sterile without obvious effects.

The researchers could eventually produce and synthesize about 100 compounds which could obstruct the functioning of the RAR-α in cells. Throughout the four-week period of trials, they gave a daily dose of a compound they named YCT529 to the male mice and found their sperm count reduced dramatically.

“Between four and six weeks after the mice stopped receiving the treatment, they could reproduce normally again with no observable side effects. When we went to even 100 times higher dose than the effective dose, the compound didn’t show any toxicity,” one of the researchers, Md Abdullah al Noman explained.

Similar research has also shown that mice that went through the same process in order not to reproduce experienced no side effects.

However, the safety of the medication cannot be said to be the same in humans, especially when they are yet to determine its safety in humans.

“If you were developing a drug that’s targeting a completely novel pathway, I think it would be appropriate to be cautious about safety when there isn’t a track record in that field,” co-researcher Richard Anderson explained.

The head of the Medical Chemistry Department of the University of Minnesota, Dr Gunda Georg, has also explained that “because it can be very difficult to predict if a compound that looks good in animal studies will also pan out in human trials, we’re currently exploring other compounds as well.”

What do these mean?

It would be misleading then for anyone to jump into a conclusion that there is an already-made male contraceptive that men can take orally to prevent them from impregnating a woman.

The current, effective options for male contraception are condoms and vasectomies. It must be noted that vasectomies are irreversible whereas condoms have a high failure rate, a professor of medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine, Dr Stephanie Page has said.

“Scientists have been trying for decades to develop an effective male oral contraceptive, but there are still no approved pills on the market. We wanted to develop a non-hormonal male contraceptive to avoid these side effects,” Md Abdullah al Noman highlighted during his presentation at the spring meeting of the American Chemical Society on Wednesday, March 23, 2022.

Beyond condoms and vasectomy, will a male contraceptive be ready in five years?

The researchers have partnered a private company, YourChoice Therapeutics, to start human trials of the contraceptive by the third or fourth quarter of 2022.

They are also receiving funding from the Male Contraceptive Initiative, a nonprofit advocating a broader range of birth control options.

A successful series of trials would mean that men can begin taking those pills orally before or after sexual intercourse to prevent pregnancy.
“I’m optimistic this will move forward quickly. There is no guarantee that it will work…but I would really be surprised if we didn’t see an effect in humans as well,” Dr Gunda Georg said.

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