The modern birth control industry almost exclusively focuses on only one half of the equation: the woman. One University of Virginia student’s startup plans to change that.
Contraline, a male contraceptive company co-founded by 2015 UVA engineering graduate Kevin Eisenfrats, has created a polymer solution called Echo-V that he hopes will finally lead to contraceptive equality. Whole books have been written about the disparity between female and male birth control, yet the industry has been female-focused since the first birth control pill came out in 1960.
“At first, the reasoning was scientific,” Eisenfrats told Inverse. “It’s much easier to stop an egg once a month than it is to stop millions of sperm every minute. But with recent scientific advancements [Eisenfrats’ lab has found more than 20 sperm biomarkers to target], it’s a pretty bad excuse.”
Echo-V is similar to an intrauterine device (IUD), but for men. First, a polymer solution is injected non-surgically into the vas deferens (the tubes that transport sperm). The solution then becomes a sperm-blocking gel that lasts for years but can be reversed with an easy de-polymerization solution. The whole process takes around five minutes and is “virtually painless.” When compared to the essentially permanent and very-much-a-surgery vasectomy procedure, choosing Echo-V seems like a no brainer.
“The innovation behind Contraline is that we have the first IVD that can be inserted through a non-surgical procedure we coined called Vasintomy,” Eisenfrats said. “Rather than making an incision and exteriorizing the tube like in vasectomy, we’re injecting it through the skin using an ultrasound as guidance.”
Eisenfrats has been interested in reproductive and contraceptive medicine since high school, and even wrote about the lack of male birth control pills in his UVA application essay. He started Contraline as an alternative to neutering pets, but quickly realized there was more pressing demand coming from men, women, and urologists.
Male contraceptives entered into the news cycle with the new year after a German carpenter invented the Bimek SLV — quite literally an on/off switch for the testes. The Bimek SLV was only tested on the inventor himself and looks to have a scant chance of ever earning regulatory approval. Contraline, on the other hand, is making legitimate strides toward an actualized product.
Since a vas deferen-inserted gel called Vasalgel already has human trials scheduled for later this year, and Contraline has undergone in vitro testing, Eisenfrats’ concept seems legit. Contraline has tested multiple polymers with varying pore sizes that let through seminal fluid, but not sperm. Its also developed a polymer that is echogenic (visible via ultrasound) to follow the product as it passes through the vas deferens. Rat testing, Eisenfrats says, is in the near future.
Eisenfrats will represent Contraline at the first Atlantic Coast Conference InVenture Prize, an ACC science and technology Shark Tank-esque competition, on April 5. He will be competing against teams like the one from Georgia Tech that produced a firefighter HUD helmet for a $15,000 first-place prize. Regardless of the outcome, though, the competition will likely grow conversation about Contraline.
Eisenfrats had around 10 men express interest after Contraline’s first competition, and he says he’s received emails from men all over the country inquiring about clinical trials.
“We have the first gel that is imageable with an ultrasound and can be inserted through a non-surgical procedure,” Eisenfrats said. “If everything goes well, we think we can finally level the contraceptive playing field.”
Correction (4/5/16): In the original version of this article, it was stated that Vasalgel was on the market, when, in fact, it only has human trials scheduled for late 2016. The article as been edited to reflect that.