Europe 1 with AFP 1:57 p.m., March 24, 2022

A team of scientists announced on Wednesday that they have developed a male contraceptive pill that is 99% effective in mice without causing any visible side effects, and which could be tested on men by the end of the year.

These results mark an important step for male contraception, which remains very marginal within couples.

One more step in research on contraception.

A team of scientists announced on Wednesday that they have developed a male contraceptive pill that is 99% effective in mice without causing any visible side effects, and which could be tested on men by the end of the year.

These results are to be presented at the Spring Conference of the American Chemical Society.

They mark an important step for male contraception, which remains very marginal within couples.

The search for a birth control pill for men goes back as far as the 1960s authorization of its equivalent for women, says doctor Abdullah Al Noman, a master's student at the University of Minnesota, who will present this work at the conference.

For a more equitable sharing of contraception

“Many studies show that men are interested in sharing the responsibility for contraception within the couple,” he says, but only two effective and recognized solutions exist to date: condoms and vasectomy.

The latter is certainly a lasting solution, but it is sometimes complicated (and expensive) to come back to.

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Other practices, such as heated briefs and the ring around the testicles, remain confidential and not validated by the health authorities.

The functioning of the female pill is based on hormones that disrupt the menstrual cycle.

Researchers have long tried to develop a male equivalent using the same method and acting on a male hormone, testosterone.

A pill without hormones

But these attempts caused undesirable side effects such as weight gain, bouts of depression and increased cholesterol levels, which increases the risk of heart disease.

The pill for women also causes side effects, including an increased risk of a blood clot.

To develop a non-hormonal pill, doctor Abdullah Al Noman, who works in the laboratory of Professor Gunda Georg, targeted a protein, the retinoic acid receptor alpha (RAR-alpha).

In the human body, vitamin A is transformed into many elements including retinoic acid, which plays an important role in cell growth, sperm formation and embryo development.

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Retinoic acid needs these RAR-alpha receptors to act: laboratory experiments have shown that mice deprived of the gene which encodes this receptor are sterile.

For its work, this laboratory has developed a compound that blocks the action of RAR-alpha.

The researchers used a computer model to identify the best possible molecular structure.

Commercialization envisaged within five years

Orally administered to male mice for four weeks, the compound drastically reduced sperm production and was 99% effective in preventing pregnancy, with no side effects observed.

And six weeks after stopping the ingestion of it, the mice could again procreate.

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The team, funded by the US Institutes of Health (NIH) and the non-profit Male Contraceptive Initiative, is working with YourChoice Therapeutics to begin clinical trials in the second half of 2022, the professor said. Gunda Georg.

"I think it can move quickly," she said, estimating commercialization could occur within five years.

“There is no guarantee of success… but I would be really surprised not to observe an effect also on humans”, added the chemist.

An evolution of manners 

Would women, however, trust men enough to take on a matter that has hitherto been almost entirely up to them?

Studies have shown that the majority of women would be willing to rely on their partner, and a significant number of men have reported being willing to take birth control pills.

"Male contraception will add to existing choices and will allow men and women to choose the contraceptive method that seems most appropriate to them", welcomed the Male Contraceptive Initiative.

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