A new type of male birth control is set to be tested in 2018. More than 400 couples in six countries will participate in a clinical trial that will test a gel contraceptive. The men will rub the gel that contains synthetic hormones in their armpits and on their shoulders once a day. Researchers will track the gel’s effectiveness as the hormones build up in the men’s bodies.
Last year, a similar clinical trial was published in which men received hormone injections every two months. The shots were found to be 96 percent effective, but the men who received them complained of side effects like mood swings and muscle pains, among others. Because of this, the study was stopped earlier than expected.
Sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and Population Council, the coming trial will include couples from the United States, the United Kingdom, Kenya, Italy, Sweden and Chile. The women in the trial will use a form of female contraception for the first four months while the men use the contraceptive gel.
The gel contains a synthetic progestin called nestorone, which blocks the testes from making enough testosterone to produce sperm. It also contains a synthetic testosterone to counteract hormonal imbalances. Only once the men’s sperm count drops below the threshold needed to prevent pregnancy will the male contraceptive be effective. The gel suppresses sperm levels for about 72 hours.
Once the men’s sperm counts drop below this threshold, the couples will use the contraceptive for a year. Even if the drug is successful, the trial will have to be completed. Dr. Min Lee, the program officer of the upcoming trial and researcher at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, says that it will likely be at least five years before the contraceptive is approved by the FDA and made available to the public.
Despite this, Lee is hopeful about the form of male contraceptive that will soon be tested. “In our interviews, men have told us they are more than willing to do this. There’s definitely a lot of enthusiasm, both from the investigators running the trials to the people participating in them,” Lee told Time Magazine in an interview.
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