Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A birth-control pill for men is now a reality, according to an international consortium of physicians who revealed their formula for “safe, effective and reversible” hormonal contraception for males.

The preparation includes progestin, a key ingredient found in women’s birth-control pills, and the male sex hormone testosterone. Progestin, a synthetic version of a hormone produced in a woman’s ovaries, helps suppress ovulation when used in an oral contraceptive. It appears to function in an analogous fashion for men, suppressing “both rate and extent” of sperm production.

“Reliable and timely contraception is a reasonable expectation for a wide range of couples of differing ethnicity, age and other characteristics,” the researchers stated yesterday. “The rate of suppression is comparable to that achieved after vasectomy.”

The team included 18 endocrinologists from the United States, Australia, Germany, China, Italy, the Netherlands and Switzerland, who based their conclusions on 30 studies conducted from 1990 to 2006, including data from the World Health Organization.

Most studies charted the efficacy of such treatments and the effects on the health of men given hormonal birth-control treatments by mouth, injection or through a skin patch for at least three months.

Birth control remains a feminine affair for the most part. In developed countries, 73 percent of contraception worldwide involved “female methods,” according to the United Nations” Population Division, which surveyed women of reproductive age in 160 nations. Condoms accounted for 13 percent and vasectomies 6 percent.

Some say men are ready for more participation, however.

“Men are already using the only two contraceptives they have — condoms and vasectomy — in great numbers. At least in the United States, the idea that men aren’t willing to participate is clearly out of date,” said Elaine Lissner, director of the Male Contraception Information Project, a California-based nonprofit interested in nonhormonal methods.

“We used to talk about men ‘sharing the burden’ of contraception. But these days, many men talk about wanting ‘control.’ Men want to control their own destinies,” Ms. Lissner said.

Potential solutions were showcased in the “Future of Male Contraception” conference in September, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Health and Human Services and the University of Washington.

Among the proposals from assorted researchers: testosterone gel combined with the female contraceptive DepoProvera, an “Intra Vas Device” which literally blocks sperm movement with plugs, and drug therapy that lowers a man’s supply of vitamin A — and thus his fertility.

The researchers, however, did not predict when male birth-control pills will be available to the public — though Dr. David Handelsman, another researcher on the team, has estimated a wait of about three years. They are clearly optimistic, though.

“Considerable progress has been made,” said Dr. Peter Liu, an endocrinologist with UCLA and the University of Sydney who directed the latest research, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

However, the team might not be able to benefit from the muscle of drug manufacturers.

Lacking proof that male contraceptives could be profitable, major pharmaceutical companies remain “mostly interested spectators,” according to Dr. Handelsman.

“The big dollars are really elsewhere,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

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