Promising Trial Results Show Male Birth Control May Be Arriving in the Future

A phase 2 trial showed that a gel-based male contraceptive is both effective at preventing unwanted pregnancies and quickly reversible.

Tests will continue to examine the effectiveness, safety, acceptability, and reversibility of contraception after treatment stops, but the results are a sign that reliable male birth control may not be far away from a pharmacy near you.

The NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development is funding the study, which included 222 men who completed at least 3 weeks of daily treatment with the contraceptive gel.

Applied daily to the shoulder blades, the gel contained 8 milligrams (mg) of a hormone called segesterone acetate and 74 mg of testosterone.

By week 15, 86% of the participants were tested and showed a sperm count below the level at which a man is typically diagnosed as infertile.

Testosterone treatment alone decreases sperm production, with a median time of 15 weeks but the addition of segesterone acetate speeds the time and lowers the dose of testosterone needed to suppress sperm production over testosterone alone, said senior researcher Diana Blithe, Ph.D., chief of the Contraceptive Development Program at the National Institutes of Health.

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In the daily segesterone-testosterone gel regimen, blood levels of testosterone were kept in the physiologic range to maintain normal sexual function and other androgen-dependent activities.

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“We’ve been pushing for hormonal male contraceptives for 50 years, but there isn’t enough money available to really drive something through a very large phase 3 trial,” Daniel Johnston, a senior colleague of Blithe’s, told NBC News. “We’ve been chasing this for a long time. I hope we’re entering new territory.”

The research was presented at the Endocrine Society’s annual meeting in Boston but hasn’t been peer-reviewed yet.

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