The birth control pills, developed by experts at Weill Cornell Medicine, have been designed to temporarily halt sperm and prevent pregnancy in preclinical trials. This means that a male contraceptive pill that can be taken on-demand is now a reality.
Dr. Jochen Buck and Dr. Lonny Levin, professors of pharmacology at Weill Cornell Medicine and co-senior authors of the study, believe that this development has the potential to be a “game changer” in the field of contraception.
Why male birth control pills weren’t introduced sooner
The development of male oral contraceptives has hit a roadblock, largely due to the heightened safety and side effect standards that they must meet, according to Dr. Levin. Men aren’t the ones carrying a child and all the risks attached. So, the industry has traditionally assumed that men would be less willing to tolerate potential side effects from contraceptives.
Historically, hormonal contraceptives with high efficacy rates have only been available to women, despite the accompanying side effects. However, scientists from Weill Cornell Medicine are shaking things up by asserting that they have created a product that is entirely side effect-free.
New birth control pills were invented accidentally
Buck and Levin’s journey to creating a male contraceptive was an unexpected one. The two were friends and colleagues, each with their own unique set of skills. It was during a challenge posed by Dr. Levin to isolate the elusive soluble adenylyl cyclase (sAC) protein that Dr. Buck became interested in the project. It took two years of dedicated work, but Drs. Buck and Levin successfully isolated sAC and decided to delve deeper into their research by merging their labs.
Their tireless efforts ultimately led them to discover that mice without the sAC protein were infertile. It opened the door to exploring its potential as a contraceptive. In 2018, their lab’s PhD student, Dr. Melanie Balbach, made an exciting breakthrough. She found that treating mice with an sAC inhibitor resulted in immobile sperm. With this discovery, the team felt confident that inhibiting sAC could be a safe and effective contraceptive option. Previous research had shown that males without the sAC gene were infertile but otherwise healthy.
Intriguingly, just one dose of the sAC inhibitor TDI-11861 is capable of rendering mouse sperm immobile for a staggering two and a half hours. And its effects persisting even after mating. Although some sperm start regaining their mobility after three hours, it takes a full 24 hours for nearly all sperm to regain normal movement.
Interestingly, male mice treated with TDI-11861 still exhibited normal mating behavior. Yet none of the 52 mating attempts with female mice resulted in pregnancy. In stark contrast, male mice given an inactive control substance successfully impregnated almost one-third of their mates.
Furthermore, Dr. Balbach pointed out that reversing the effects of other hormonal and non-hormonal male contraceptives currently in development can take several weeks. This is due to the fact that sAC inhibitors only last a few hours. It allows men to take them as needed and when needed. This newfound flexibility will empower men to make daily decisions about their fertility.
What’s next: making birth control pills fit for humans
Moving forward, the team plans to repeat their experiments using another preclinical model as a stepping stone towards human clinical trials. These trials will help test the effects of sAC inhibition on sperm motility in healthy men, according to Dr. Buck.
Dr. Levin envisions a future where a man can walk into a pharmacy and confidently ask for a “man pill”.