Despite Big Pharma’s Lack of Support, Variety of Male Contraceptives on the Horizon

The contraceptives would shift the burden of responsibility to men

Birth control methods for men have the potential to cut into market for condoms. LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images

A University startup in India is wrapping up human trials of the first male contraceptive in over a century. The product is a one-time injection of a polymer gel that prevents sperm from swimming. It’s proven to be safe, cheap, effective and free of side-effects. The treatment, dubbed RIsug (reversible inhibition of sperm under guidance), is easily reversed with a second injection. It has been shown to last as long as 13 years, unlike female contraceptives that must be taken daily.

The Independent reported, “A new birth control method for men has the potential to win as much as half the $10bn (£8bn) market for female contraceptives worldwide and cut into the $3.2bn of annual condom sales, businesses dominated by pharmaceutical giants Bayer, Pfizer and Merck, according to estimates from the last major drug company to explore the area.” No company has agreed to sell the product, posing a barrier to developing safe and widely accessible contraceptives for men.

“The fact that the big companies are run by white, middle-aged males who have the same feeling—that they would never do it—plays a major role,” says Herjan Coelingh Bennink, a gynecology professor who helped develop the contraceptives Implanon and Cerazette as head of research and development in women’s health for Organon International from 1987 to 2000. “If those companies were run by women, it would be totally different.”

A male contraception product could provide relief to millions of women in developing countries who don’t have regular access to contraceptives. Though the drug in India would have to redo trials and research in the U.S. to obtain FDA approval, several similar products are being developed within the United States.

In California, a similar product is being developed by the non-profit Parsemus Foundation called Vasagel. Their product has been proven to be 100 percent effective in animals tested and they hope to move onto human trials by next year.

A startup in Charlottesville, Va., called Contraline is working on a similar substance that would be injected without surgery with the aid of ultrasound. In an interview, the company’s founders said they plan on conducting clinical trials in 2019 and hope to be on the market by 2021.

Several other male contraceptive alternatives are currently in a research phase. Eppin is being developed by the University of North Carolina’s Dr. Michael O’Rand to develop a protein that binsd to the sperm cell and prevents it from swimming. This method could be ingested or injected, and fertility resumes once treatment stops. The “Clean Sheets pill” is undergoing research at King’s College of London, and it would relax the vas deferens for 16 to 24 hours, preventing the release of sperm. A drug called JQ1 has shown to effectively, but temporarily, turn off the gene that develops sperm in male mice, but the product has yet to move forward to human trials.

Each product would provide a safer, easier, and more affordable alternative to vasectomies. Planned Parenthood’s website lists five birth control methods men can use, three of which include withdrawal, abstinence and “outercourse.” We may be just a few years away from adding better alternatives that shift some of the responsibility of contraceptives to men.