By Joanne Omang
WASHINGTON, June 8 – Half a century after U.S. approval of the birth control pill, a contraceptive is pending for men that may also prevent baldness.
The Women Deliver 2010 conference here learned today that other contraceptives in the research pipeline include invisible gels to rub onto the skin, and vaginal rings that would prevent HIV infection as well as pregnancy. At a morning plenary and subsequent news conference, however, researchers stressed that nothing yet looks like the contraceptive panacea that the birth control pill did not turn out to be either.
The pill’s approval for public use in 1960 was a medical advance ranking in importance “right up there with antibiotics, anesthesia and vaccines,” said Christopher J. Elias, president of PATH. “But technology, even modern technology is not a magic bullet.” More than 200 million women who want contraceptives still lack access to them, and no method works for everyone.
Regine L. Sitruk-Ware, research director at the Population Council, told journalists that the new contraceptive implant for men, now approaching clinical trials, uses a hormone that not only blocks sperm production but also blocks the formation of proteins that cause baldness. The hormone (m-ethyl-nor-testosterone, or MENT) does not affect the prostate gland as the male hormone androgen does, and is already in use in some anti-baldness medications, she said. Side effects are “extremely minimal,” including “mild aggressiveness,” she added.
“We have to bring in incentives for people to use contraception and if you have a dual use like this it helps a great deal,” Sitruk-Ware said, noting that the contraceptive combination is at least six years from government approval. The skin gel and HIV-combating vaginal ring are still in early development.
Mikkel Vestergaard Frandsen, chief executive officer of Vestergaard Frandsen company, described another dual-purpose program that drew more than 80 percent of a target population in Kenya to get tested for HIV infection over four days by offering an incentive package of a free insecticidal bed net, a water filter and condoms. “The cost saving of [service] integration is enormous,” he said. A second drive will target 4.8 million people, and further programs may use similar packages to draw women for breast and cervical cancer screening, he said.