KANSAS CITY, MO: Women may say, “It’s about time.” Guys may have the same reaction.
After many overly optimistic predictions, a male version of ‘‘The Pill’’ may truly be in sight. And a team at the University of Kansas School of Medicine, a nationally recognized center of research into male contraceptives, is working to be among the first to put a new generation of products on the market.
Joseph Tash, a reproductive biologist at the university, has spent a decade tinkering with a chemical compound called H2-gamendazole that keeps sperm from developing in the testes. Men taking a gamendazole “pill” would essentially be shooting blanks. The expectation is that men on the pill would experience no change in their libido and, if they stopped taking it, would regain full fertility within a few weeks.
Tash’s work is part of a promising array of new birth-control methods for men that are under development in laboratories or already being tested on volunteers. These contraceptives are arriving more than 50 years after the female birth control pill revolutionized relations between the sexes and gave women greater control over their lives.
Attitudes that birth control was women’s work, along with the technical challenges — women release just one egg per month, but men produce 1,000 sperm per second — have slowed development of new male contraceptives. But recent investments in research appear to be paying off.
Men already are testing contraceptives based on hormones that are analogous to the contraceptive pills women take. Meanwhile, researchers such as Tash are working on compounds that target sperm production or activity directly without affecting men’s hormones.
Tash is preparing to ask the Food and Drug Administration what additional studies he’ll need to do before he can start trying gamendazole on human subjects. He will have to meet a high standard of safety for a drug that healthy men would be taking regularly for a long time; FDA approval, if it goes that far, is perhaps a decade away. So far, though, the compound’s safety has checked out in rabbits, mice, rats and monkeys. Mating tests on rats showed no change in their behavior, Tash said.
“And it’s 100 percent effective and 100 percent reversible.” No formal mating tests on monkeys yet, but those that took it “still seemed happy,” he said.
The prospect of a male pill raises plenty of questions: Will men be willing to take it? Will women trust men to take it? Will it have any effect on the divisive issues of birth control?
Contraception for men has long been limited to a small set of options — condoms, vasectomy, interruption of intercourse.
Elaine Lissner, an advocate who runs the Male Contraception Information Project, thinks more men would use birth control if they had better alternatives.
“To reach more men, you have to have something more attractive than the current choices,” she said.