Teenage pregnancies are down across the United States but the reason isn’t because girls have learned to say “no.” The reason is they have easy access to contraception. (Click) Girls, rather than boys, have been held responsible for unwanted pregnancies and the responsibility doesn’t alter much with age. Pharmaceutical companies target their drugs to manage a woman’s reproductive systems, not a man’s. The upside is women have several preventative options while men have only one, a vasectomy, which requires surgery and a short period of recuperation.
The male reproductive system seems to hold no interest for big companies. When Schering merged with Bayer, its research and development work on a contraceptive pill for men was aborted. (“A Miracle Drug Big Pharma Doesn’t Want,” by Ari Altstedter et. al, Bloomberg Businessweek, April 4-9, 2017, pgs. 22-24.) The reason big pharma hasn’t provided options for men isn’t that they wouldn’t be profitable. Rather, fooling around with a man’s sperm never crosses the mind of the white, middle-aged males who manage most pharmaceuticals. Says one researcher, “If these companies were run by women, it would be totally different.” (Ibid pg. 23.)
A well-kept secret is that a painless, reliable and reversible drug for men has existed since 1978. Taken as a onetime injection, the medication has so far proven to be viable for as long as 13 years and still going strong. With no side effects attendant, it is 98% effective and reversed with a second injection of a counteracting drug. (Ibid pg. 23.) Sujoy Guha (78), who has waited 40 years to have his work recognized, speculates big pharma’s reluctance to alter its focus is its fear a change in direction might jeopardize already lucrative contraception and condom sales, valued at $3.2 billion dollars a year worldwide.
India, struggling with a burgeoning populations, has taken note of Guha’s drug. In that country, buying condoms over the counter carries a social stigma. The government hopes injections provided in the privacy of a doctor’s office might gain wider acceptance. (Ibid 23)
Anticipating a large market for male contraception, the Parsemus Foundation, has licensed Guha’s product, Vasalgel, and will start fresh human trials next year. If approved, the injections will cost as little as $10 in low-income countries and up to $600 in wealthier ones. Projected revenue from the product is valued at $10 billion annually.
If the demand takes off, how will the U. S. Congress react? Will men gain access to this new contraception while women continue to be denied birth control options? If so, expect the US Supreme Court to rule on the question of discrimination.