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The mystery of the male birth control pill

February is National Condom Month … and, if you didn’t already know, February 14th is National Condom Day.

When it comes to birth control for men, National Condom Day seems like an appropriate commemoration, because while women can choose from an array of female condoms, pills, contraceptive injections and more, men are limited to either condoms or a more permanent option: the vasectomy.

So why, after years of research, do we still lack an in-between: a male birth control pill?

As it turns out, one University of Minnesota expert may soon have the answer.

Gunda Georg, Ph.D., professor and head of the College of Pharmacy’s Department of Medicinal Chemistry is at the forefront of the development process for a non-hormonal pharmaceutical solution to stop sperm from ever reaching maturity. She recently received a $4.7 million grant for work on two female and eight different male contraceptive projects.

“In my opinion, this kind of pill is long overdue,” said Georg. “In the 1960s there was a prediction that the male pill would fall on the heels of the female pill, yet today we still don’t have one.”

Drug development is a tough business and, according to Georg, it becomes even tougher when it comes to giving medication to healthy people. No toxicity can be tolerated when it comes to male birth control and the pill’s effects have to be reversible. Eliminating undesirable side effects such as testes shrinkage is another challenge.

“With female birth control you only have to control one egg. In males you have to control millions of sperm. That may be part of the answer to why a male pill is more elusive than a female pill,” said Georg.

As for when we can expect to see a male contraceptive pill come to fruition:

“It’s tough to say,” said Georg. “We’ve heard a male birth control pill will be around in five to ten years for years. We feel good about what we have in hand now, but we don’t know yet if our non-hormonal compound will pass all the necessary tests required to move it along the approval process. But we’re hopeful.”

So stay tuned.  The answer might not be that far off.

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