The Grapevine

Male Contraceptive Pill Could 'Turn Off' Sperms' Ability To Swim

New research suggests that a compound known as EP055 could potentially be developed as a male contraceptive pill without hormonal side effects. It works by binding itself to sperm proteins and slowing down their mobility.

"Simply put, the compound turns off the sperm’s ability to swim, significantly limiting fertilization capabilities. This makes EP055 an ideal candidate for non-hormonal male contraception," said lead researcher Dr. Michael O’Rand, a retired professor of cell biology and physiology from the University of North Carolina. He is currently the president and CEO of Eppin Pharma, Inc.

The study titled 'Inhibition of sperm motility in male macaques with EP055, a potential non-hormonal male contraceptive' was published in the journal PLOS on April 19. 

Researchers tested the compound on rhesus macaques, a species of monkeys native to northern India. Thirty hours after a high-dose infusion, it was found that the monkeys' sperms were not able to move. No adverse effects were observed in any of the monkeys and the effect was shown to be temporary as their sperms were moving as usual again after 18 days. This was significant as it meant that the potential contraceptive was not only free of side effects but was also reversible.

Dr. O’Rand explained that female birth control pills operate by altering the natural hormones of the body and that most "male pills" undergoing studies and clinical trials use the same approach. While worth pursuing, he added that side effects are often inevitable when targeting human hormones.

EP055, on the other hand, holds the potential to become a non-hormonal birth control option. "Our approach is simply to make the sperm in an ejaculate stop swimming. We have seen no side effects in our animal research," he said, adding that the research team is "currently formulating an oral version of EP055."

While numerous means of birth control have existed for women, options for men have mostly been limited to condom use and surgical vasectomy. Condoms are the most popular choice but can still present a minor risk of pregnancy and also cause a loss of sensation for some users. Vasectomy is vastly more effective but the method is not often used since it involves surgery, even though it is reversible.

Scientists have attempted to create more male contraceptive options in recent years, many of which are under active study. But the development has not occurred without challenges, particularly with regards to funding. For example, an injectable gel struggled to find support from drug makers in 2017.

"To some extent, why we haven't seen involvement with pharma companies is that they've been disappointed in the past with failed products that have focused primarily on hormonal efforts," said Aaron Hamlin, executive director of the Male Contraception Initiative, an advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.

The team behind the new study expressed plans to investigate how effective the compound is at preventing pregnancy in mating trials. If it continues to show promising results, Dr. O’Rand hopes to work towards a phase one human trial.