First of all, I won’t apologize for the pun in the title. Secondly, it seems my first male contraceptive article stirred up a lot of controversy about the hypothetical anti-HIV properties of RISUG (shared from a journal named, appropriately, Medical Hypotheses). After speaking with the makers of the U.S. version, they mentioned that although this hypothesis might be a stretch, they’re currently encouraging production of a different male contraceptive that could potentially reduce or eliminate transmission of all semen-borne STDs (including HIV) precisely because of the way it works. Just in case you missed that, they did indeed say all semen-borne STDs.
Say hello to the “clean sheets” pill — another non-hormonal option for male birth control that’s on the horizon in the UK, albeit at a much earlier stage of development than RISUG/Vasalgel. To cut right to the chase, it’s affectionately dubbed the “clean sheets” pill due to the fact that it inhibits release of any semen whatsoever by relaxing the longitudinal muscles of the Wolffian duct system while still permitting the circular muscles to contract, resulting in a sphincter action of the circular muscles on the lax longitudinal ones so they clamp down on the tubes carrying sperm and semen. Because all fluids are stopped before emission, that means they remain where they are (no retrograde ejaculation into the bladder, etc) and are recycled by the body as naturally as in total abstinence.
Basically, you get all of the feel-good with none of the mess.
No mess means no babies. But the bigger “mess” that’s stopped is transmission of HIV. To quote Elaine Lissner, the Director of Medical Research Programs at the Parsemus Foundation, “To contraceptive funders, this seems like just another male pill lead in a crowded field, but for HIV transmission prevention, there’s nothing like it.”
The other good news? There are potentially several different ways this product can be delivered. It’s currently being posited by its two inventors, Drs. Nnaemeka Amobi and Christopher Smith, that a pill taken two to three hours before intercourse would have the effects dissipate within 16-24 hours, not unlike the timing of the ever-popular Viagra. Or the doctors suggest that men could have round-the-clock protection with a small time-release rod implanted just under the skin like Implanon (but without the hormonal drama).
What’s the bad news? Funding. Right now, with only $300,000 to go, the project is literally a Kickstarter away from the next step in the process. But it’s been sitting that way for over six years now. For a lot of drugs, this is fairly normal because of how uncertain things can be at this stage in the process. But according to Dr. Amobi, he and his colleagues have already “modified the prototypes and expect greater than 95 percent efficacy” at the start of the next round of testing and “total inhibition of semen (100 percent) by the end” of that, given that both of the parent compounds are proven to provide the “dry” effect 100 percent of the time. Then, the FDA approval process could begin with clinical studies on animals and then humans.
Right now, this little pill is stopped dead in its tracks. The money each year for contraceptive research is limited and most of it goes to female contraceptives. When the economy took a dive recently, the Gates Foundation had their contraceptive development funding literally cut in half and unfortunately, it was male methods that got the boot. Parsemus Foundation has its hands full developing Vasalgel, and USAID would take on this venture if its budget wasn’t being slashed. Beyond that, a surprising percentage of people seem to think that condoms, IUDs, and hormonal birth control will be good enough for all of us forever (shudder). I’m personally horrified that with the current number of prospects, not a single method of male contraception has been supported to market past our current two options: condoms or having a vasectomy.
Think about that for a moment.
If you’ll forgive me for this sentence, I think the silver lining here could be HIV. Because as Lissner puts it, “the yearly funding for HIV prevention absolutely dwarfs the funding for contraceptives.” If HIV prevention groups can get adamant about this pill’s strong possibility of limiting or preventing HIV transmission from men, this research could finally gain some much-needed traction.
But you know who else can help? You. Right now. If you donate a buck or two right here, this pill WILL move forward to the next crucial step for the first time in over 6 years. It’s that simple. If you don’t, please share this page, sign this petition, and get the word out to people you love. And remember this last quote from Lissner:
“It’s not impossible to get a great drug to market, it just takes putting your mind and your money into it.”