Researchers have developed a potentially viable male birth control treatment that has been shown to slow down the sperm in male monkeys, effectively reducing their fertility within six hours of receiving the treatment. It’s called EP055 and, while it needs to be delivered in high doses to be effective, it reportedly has no negative side effects ⏤ at least none that have been discovered. Scientists are now attempting to turn it into a pill so they can begin testing the compound on humans.
“Simply put, the compound turns off the sperm’s ability to swim, significantly limiting fertilization capabilities,” said Michael O’Rand, a retired medical professor and the president and CEO of Eppin Pharma, Inc., who helped fund the research.
EP055 was found to lower the monkey’s sperm mobility by 20 percent, although it returned to normal within 18 days of stopping the treatment. There have been several attempts to develop a male birth control pill, but in every case the treatment was hormonal and the side effects were deemed too undesirable. When researchers tried methods that lowered testosterone, the results ranged from decreased sex drive to low bone density and depression, or potentially dangerous changes to their red blood cell count. Some treatments have been deemed effective and reversible, but too many men who participated in the testing reported the development of mood disorders.
The irony of the entire thing is that female birth control pills have been on the market since the 1960’s, and as the years have gone on, women have consistently reported many of the same side effects that are preventing a male contraceptive treatment from hitting the market in 2018. Most female birth control pills increase the user’s risk of developing a blood clot by three or four times. An increase in red blood cells can make the blood thicker and the user more prone to clots, and the change to red blood cell count is one of the side effects scientists referenced to nix certain treatments for men. One study also found that women who take certain hormonal birth control pills had a 40-percent higher chance of depression, and while it’s not often the case, some women have reported a dip in their sex drive due to birth control treatments as well.
It’s hard to pinpoint why exactly all the extra care has gone into making male contraceptives side-effect free while pharmaceutical companies continue to allow them in treatments undergone by women. The standard for ‘good’ medicine has definitely gone up since the 1960’s, but it’s also not a stretch to note that medically speaking — though this is easily an observation that can be made outside of the medical community — there’s just a greater indifference to the pain and suffering of women. One post to the Harvard Health Blog, run by the Harvard Medical School, noted that 70 percent of the people who suffer from chronic pain are women, but those same women are way more likely than men to receive sedatives rather than actual pain medication. They also point out that most disease diagnoses are based on male physiology, and most medications are tested on male humans and male mice. So often, the pain women experience isn’t factored in. As a result of this, women, for example, are seven times more likely to have their heart attacks misdiagnosed and be wrongly discharged from the hospital.
Still, despite the kind of pain disparity that takes place, O’Rand notes that the development of the EP055 is ‘a significant step forward in the development of a non-hormonal pharmacological contraceptive for men.” Though a male pharmaceutical contraceptive isn’t available right now, it looks like researchers are closer than ever.