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Male contraceptive solutions: will men be able to take a birth control pill?

Male contraceptive solutions: will men be able to take a birth control pill?

When it comes to birth control and contraception, the burden has historically fallen heavily on women. From contraceptive pills to intrauterine devices (IUDs) and hormonal implants, the options for women have been diverse but often invasive, with awful side effects and requiring regular maintenance. However, the landscape of birth control is evolving, and discussions about male contraception are gaining traction. 

In fact, in a piece of breaking news shared by The Times today, 16 British men are the first to test a new male contraceptive pill. Scientists believe this development could transform how the sexes share responsibility for birth control.

The drug, called YCT-529, is initially being given to 16 volunteers at a clinic in Nottingham — more than 60 years after the female pill was introduced in the UK.

It works by shutting off a protein called retinoic acid receptor alpha (RAR-alpha) inside the body. This prevents RAR-alpha from binding to a form of vitamin A. In turn, this should stop the formation of sperm in the testes.

When YCT-529 was given to mice, it was 99% effective in preventing pregnancies. 

It's important to remember that YCT-529 blocks a protein, not a hormone, to prevent the production of sperm. The developers of this pill believe this will be a more attractive option for men looking to take the pill. 

A recent study by The Independent Pharmacy showed that 52% of UK men would use a male birth control pill if available, while over half of UK women support its development to balance contraceptive responsibility. One-third of men believe they should shoulder more contraceptive responsibility with such a pill.

Current Male Contraceptive Options

At present, the primary forms of male contraceptives include:

  1. Condoms: One of the oldest and most reliable methods, condoms not only act as contraceptives but also protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). However, their effectiveness can be influenced by factors such as incorrect usage or breakage.
  2. Vasectomy: This surgical procedure involves cutting or blocking the tubes that carry sperm. It's a highly effective form of contraception, but its permanence can be a barrier for some men.

When will we receive results of this study?

Results of the trial of YCT-529 are expected in the Spring, but that doesn't mean YCT-529 will be available then. If the results of the trial are positive, more extensive (and costly) trials will be required to test the true effectiveness of the drug, while also understanding any possible side effects. 

What about other research into non-hormonal contraceptive methods for men?

As for other non-hormonal methods, there are several promising non-hormonal options in preclinical stages. 

Some of these methods work by blocking the tubes that carry sperm from the testicles, with researchers in Australia exploring the use of a hydrogel that would last for two years or gels such as Plan A. Plan A utilises Vasalgel®, a proprietary hydrogel that stops the flow of sperm through the vas deferens. This quick, outpatient procedure is similar to that of a no-scalpel vasectomy - except instead of permanently cutting the vas deferens, as in a vasectomy, the hydrogel acts as a flexible filter that stops the flow of sperm. This design would make Plan A reliably reversible through a simple follow-up visit. NEXT Life Sciences is working to bring Plan A™ to the world as soon as clinical studies and regulatory approvals are completed.

Others involve stopping sperm from being able to move by blocking a protein called soluble adenylyl cyclase.

THIS ARTICLE HAS BEEN SCIENTIFICALLY REVIEWED BY UNFABLED'S CLINICAL LEAD.

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References
  1. The Times, "British men first in world to test new male contraceptive pill", Rhys Blakely.
  2. https://www.epworth.org.au/newsroom/male-contraceptive-implanted-at-epworth-freemasons-in-world-first#:~:text=A%20new%20long%2Dlasting%2C%20non,acting%20like%20a%20temporary%20vasectomy
  3. https://www.planaformen.com/
  4. Balbach, M., Rossetti, T., Ferreira, J. et al. On-demand male contraception via acute inhibition of soluble adenylyl cyclase. Nat Commun 14, 637 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-023-36119-6

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