At present, there are only 2 birth control options for men – condoms and vasectomies.
While condoms are affordable and accessible, they’re prone to failure. On the other hand, Vasectomies are often seen as a permanent form of male sterilization.
For years, scientists have tried to come up with a more viable solution for male birth control, but a recent study suggests they may have already found one.
According to a study published in the American Chemical Society (ACS), researchers at the University of Minnesota have developed a birth control pill that they believe could be the future of male contraception. The lab tests showed that the pill is 99% effective in male mice.
“Scientists have been trying for decades to develop an effective male oral contraceptive, but there are still no approved pills on the market,” says Abdullah Al Noman, a graduate student in the lab of Gunda Georg at the University of Minnesota.
Most compounds are currently undergoing clinical trials that target the male hormone testosterone. However, choosing to target such hormones can result in major side effects, such as weight gain, depression, and increased low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels.
“We wanted to develop a non-hormonal male contraceptive to avoid these side effects,” says Noman.
The compound that was developed was dubbed YCT529, where it targets a protein called the retinoic acid receptor alpha (RAR-α) – a form of Vitamin A that plays an important role in cell growth, sperm formation, and embryonic development.
By eliminating the RAR-α gene in male mice, it makes them sterile. Meaning they won’t be able to reproduce. Another promising finding from the study is that the male mice didn’t experience any side effects at all.
RAR-α is just one of three different nuclear receptors that bind retinoic acid, the other two being RAR-β and RAR-γ. Other scientists have already developed a compound that inhibits all three receptors, but Georg wants to focus solely on targeting RAR-α to avoid any side effects.
The YCT529 compound that she developed with Noman was found to be 500 times more potent at inhibiting RAR-α.
When given orally to male mice for 4 weeks, the compound dramatically reduced their sperm count and was proved to be 99% effective in preventing pregnancy. After 4 to 6 weeks they stopped receiving the compound, the male mice were able to father pups again as usual – all this, without any side effects.
Human trials starts in Q3 or Q4 of 2022
Despite the promising results shown, the researchers are working on developing other compounds too. “Because it can be 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,” Georg said.