Gates backs development work on a long-acting contraceptive pill
The risk of pregnancy is much lower for women who take their oral contraceptive pill correctly — every day at about the same time. In the United States, the pills are not available over the counter, and these factors contribute to poor medication adherence, and in turn, unwanted pregnancies. Lyndra Therapeutics is working on the fix — a pill that can be taken weekly, or even monthly.
In its quest, the Watertown, Massachusetts-based drug developer has scored a $13 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The oral capsule is engineered to deliver a steady stream of estrogen and progestin — the drugs used in existing daily combined oral contraceptives — over seven days or more. The formulation, which is designed to open once inside the stomach, is designed to eventually exit safely via the gastrointestinal tract, like undigested food. Lyndra, along with non-profit partner Routes2Results, will conduct the preclinical studies.
As of 2018, there were 61 million US women of reproductive age, and four out of five sexually experienced women have used the pill, according to the sexual and reproductive health-focused research and policy organization Guttmacher Institute. There are various other forms of contraception, including female condoms, diaphragm, cervical cap, contraceptive sponge, pills, vaginal ring, contraceptive implant, contraceptive injection, birth control patch, intrauterine devices and sterilization.
However, contraceptive supplies and services can be expensive. In 2014, an estimated 20 million women in the United States needed federal or state funding for family planning services, the Guttmacher Institute estimated. Former Democratic president Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law, the Affordable Care Act, guaranteed the coverage of contraceptive methods and services with no out-of-pocket costs — but the Trump administration has endeavored to undermine these protections, citing religious and moral exceptions, and has also sought to gag Planned Parenthood — the nation’s largest abortion provider — with a series of anti-abortion bills.
Earlier this year, Lyndra unveiled a $60 million round of funding, with backing from the Gates Foundation. The company — whose technology platform revolves around killing daily regimens in favor of longer-acting therapies — got started at the prolific lab of Bob Langer at MIT. Last fall it wrapped up a proof-of-concept trial for its reformulated schizophrenia therapy, and earlier this month the company joined forces with Gilead to work on long-acting HIV therapies.
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