By Gunda Georg, professor of medicinal chemistry and director of the Institute for Therapeutics Discovery and Development, University of Minnesota; Jon Hawkinson, research professor of medicinal chemistry and associate program director of the Institute for Therapeutics Discovery and Development, University of Minnesota; and Shameem Syeda, principal scientist at the Institute for Therapeutics Discovery and Development, University of Minnesota.
After decades of research, development of a male birth control may now be one step closer. My colleagues and I are working on a promising lead for a male birth control pill based on ouabain—a plant extract that African warriors and hunters traditionally used as a heart-stopping poison on their arrows.
Hunters want ouabain to be deadly when used on an arrow, but no one wants a fatal contraceptive.
State of the search
While the birth control pill has been available to women in the United States for nearly six decades—and FDA-approved for contraceptive use since 1960—an oral contraceptive for men has not yet come to market. The pill has provided women with safe, effective and reversible options for birth control, while options for men have been stuck in a rut.
Today, men have just two choices when it comes to birth control: condoms or a vasectomy. Together, these two methods account for just 30 percent of contraception used, leaving the remaining 70 percent of contraceptive methods to women. An estimated 500,000 American men opt for a vasectomy each year—a small number given the need for contraception. Vasectomy is an invasive procedure to do that’s also difficult and invasive to reverse.
When it comes to birth control options for men, the need is clear. Unplanned pregnancy rates remain high across the globe. It’s time for more options.