That question gets asked a lot in job interviews, and is a good way to gauge how invested someone is in the future. It’s been said many times that male birth control has been 5 years away for the past 20 years. Unfortunately, it’s not too far from the truth. A combination of factors, including a lack of interest from major pharmaceutical players, misinformation about the acceptability of male contraceptives, and a lack of research funding has created a scenario in which there are lots of wide-open paths to create male contraceptives, but nobody to walk them. There is a clear lack of investment in male birth control, despite the known and clear advantages.
Take, for example, a recent article from the Journal of the American Medical Association, JAMA. The article highlights the reluctance of drug makers to dip their feet into the world of male contraception. Their reluctance is largely because cheap, effective female birth control methods permeate the market. With such a reliable base, they don’t regard new contraceptives as potential blockbusters.
Additionally, it’s hard to get male birth control options to market.
The “valley of death” is a risky phase in drug development where many drugs fail before they can even get into clinical trials. Drug makers are unlikely to push candidates into this “valley” unless they can be reasonable sure they will make their money back.
When you combine these concerns with a public perception that men aren’t willing to take contraceptives, a trend of misinformed reluctance develops. Today, this reluctance persists despite the fact that a recent Ipsos survey indicated that 88% of Americans felt men and women have equal responsibility in birth control, and 65% of men would be willing to use a hormonal birth control option, were it available.
And the misinformation doesn’t stop among the drug makers. The general public has heard news about male birth control research, and it hasn’t gone over well. News about a cancelled study resulted in inflammatory headlines, and the gendered history of birth control has made many members of the public quick to go on the offensive. Organizations like us exist to promote male contraceptives and share the truth about acceptability, but these misconceptions can be pervasive.
And what are we doing to remedy the lack of incentive?
We shepherd people along open paths. Specifically, we try to bridge the gap over the “valley of death” by funding early-stage research. The first successful drug candidate can attract the attention of drug makers, who now have incentives to take a shot at male birth control. We also conduct our own marketing studies to learn what sort of qualities male contraceptive options need to be successful. This knowledge gets published, and informs our funding decisions. These marketing data also serve to illustrate the desire for male contraceptive options.
So, where do we see ourselves in five years?
We see ourselves ending that long-running saying – that male birth control is 5 years away. We’re diversifying the types of research that gets funded. And our expert board ensures the research we fund has the best chance to succeed. We also push to get prospective options included in healthcare coverage, making sure that male birth control and contraception as a whole stays a part of the national conversation. Things are closer than they’ve ever been, and now an organization like MCI exists to help jump that final gap.
Luckily, that isn’t the end of our work. Because of our marketing and acceptability surveys, we know that male needs for birth control are as diverse as the men themselves. Even five, ten, or twenty years from now we’ll be continuing our efforts. Our job is to ensure that new options are always coming down the pipeline. Eventually, these options will fit the needs of as many users as possible.
This is a long game to play.
And it requires us to take stock of the big picture. It’s hard to understand why such an attractive space in drug development has seen such low interest. By evaluating multiple avenues, we stand the best chance to serve the public. We stand the best chance to make birth control a conversation everyone participates in.