- The Washington Times - Monday, March 19, 2018

An experimental birth control pill for men was shown to be safe and effective in early trials, as scientists move ever-closer to delivering male contraception to the masses.

The once-daily oral pill, called dimethandrolone undecanoate or DMAU, is made up of two steroid hormones — testosterone and progestin — that are chemically modified to suppress sperm production. Over the course of a month, it showed positive results, with little to no adverse side effects.

The study was led by researchers Dr. Stephanie Page of the University of Washington and Dr. Christina Wang of the University of California, Los Angeles. Its findings were presented Sunday at the Endocrine Society’s 100th annual meeting in Chicago.

The study evaluated 100 heathy men between 18 and 50 years old. They were assigned to groups with at least three different doses of DMAU, and some received a placebo.

It was the first time researchers evaluated repeated doses of DMAU to make sure it’s safe and to identify proper dosage in future studies. The group that received the highest dose, 400 milligrams, had the greatest suppression of sperm production and tolerated the medication well.

Replacing testosterone in men can result in harmful side effects because the hormone regulates a multitude of functions, including sex drive, mood, bone mass, fat distribution, muscle mass and strength, sperm and red blood cell production, sleep, among others.

The subjects on DMAU had “mild” side effects, which included weight gain and decreases in “good” cholesterol.

“We want men’s health, including their sexual health, to be maintained with any sort of contraceptive that gets to the market,” Dr. Page told The Washington Times.

The schedule to go to market is between five and 10 years, she said, adding that the next steps in the research call for a repeat of the results with a larger cohort over a longer period of time.

The research is funded by the National Institute on Child Health and Human Development. Dr. Page said that a lack of interest by pharmaceutical companies in supporting male contraception is hamstringing research efforts, though the situation is “stable” right now.

“The most important thing we need in the long run is a business or pharmaceutical partner, because we know there’s a large investment in order to do these long-term studies in many, many men,” she said.

Social scientists recently have started to more thoroughly gauge public opinion about male contraception to understand if there is a demand.

“There’s been multiple surveys across ethnicities and nationalities of both men and women about their level of interest in male contraceptives and it’s enormous,” Dr. Page said. “Many, many people are interested in this.”

The reasons are varied for both sexes. Some women can’t take the pill or other forms of long-acting birth control, either for personal or medical reasons. Meanwhile, some men have expressed a desire to share the burden of responsibility for contraception and to exert a sense of control over their own fertility, Dr. Page said.

For men, there are only two contraceptive options: condoms, which are about 98 percent effective when used properly but only about 85 percent effective due to human error, and vasectomy, about which Dr. Page said “a lot of young men are not interested in that.”

This is not the first successful human trial or the only method being developed, but it is the forerunner of a hormonal pill. Other male contraceptives in development include injections, implants and non-hormonal pills.

Last year, researchers published results of successful reversal of a gel injection into rabbits’ vas deferens — the duct through which sperm flows from the testes to the urethra.

Australian scientist Sabatino Ventura is working on a hormone-free, oral contraceptive for men that uses proteins to block signals that cause sperm to be released and has had successful trials in mice, the BBC reported.

• Laura Kelly can be reached at lkelly@washingtontimes.com.

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