Male contraception pill shows promise

A new birth control pill for men appears to be safe when used daily, a new study finds. But don't expect a pill for sale for at least 5 years or more.

The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, included 100 healthy men, ages 18 to 50 years, and took place at the University of Washington Medical Center and at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, California.

Much like female contraception, the pill, known by the name dimethandrolone undecanoate, or DMAU, contains a combination of hormones including testosterone and progestin.

"Many men say they would prefer a daily pill as a reversible contraceptive, rather than long-acting injections or topical gels, which are also in development," said Dr. Stephanie Page, the study's senior investigator and a professor of medicine at the University of Washington. "We're selling men short if we don't think they're ready to embrace new options for contraception."

The new pill overcomes some previous challenges facing male birth control including reduced liver inflammation and decreasing the speed at which the drug clears the body.

Different doses of the pill were given to 83 men over the course of 28 days. At the highest dose tested, subjects had a marked suppression of the hormones required for sperm production.

Researchers note that usually low testosterone levels can lead to decreased sex drive and fatigue but most of those involved in the trial did not appear to suffer from these side effects.

"We did mood questionnaires as well as questionnaires about sexual behaviors and sexual function and desire," Page said. "Those were no different in the men who got the placebo versus the treatment group."

All of the men taking the pill experienced some amount of weight gain and a drop in their HDL, or good, cholesterol levels, but Page said both were minor.

Page said the next step is a 3-month trial. It that goes well, researchers will launch a yearlong trial. The best-case scenario, if all trials are successful and the FDA grants approval, you may see birth control pills for men in pharmacies in less than a decade, Page said.