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Once-a-Month Contraceptive Pill Being Developed

Family planning in India

A family planning counselor meets with a couple in India. (USAID.gov)

30 July 2019. A company specializing in long-term release of drugs is receiving a foundation grant to develop a contraceptive pill for women that works for weeks at a time. Lyndra Therapeutics Inc. in Watertown, Massachusetts is the recipient of a $13 million award from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as part of that organization’s family planning initiatives.

One of the Gates Foundation’s family planning goals is better contraceptive techniques that overcome obstacles to current methods, particularly issues of access, convenience, and acceptance. According to the Guttmacher Institute, as of 2017, 214 million women of child-bearing age in developing regions of the world who want to avoid pregnancies are not using modern family planning techniques. Of this group, 59 million women continue to use traditional methods, while 155 million use no family planning at all. As a result, more than 4 in 10 (43%) of pregnancies in developing regions are unintended, with the vast majority of those pregnancies (84%) occurring in women with an unmet need for modern contraception methods.

Lyndra Therapeutics is commercializing research on long-term drug delivery technologies from the bioengineering labs of two of its founders, Robert Langer of MIT and Giovanni Traverso, who is joining the MIT faculty from Brigham and Women’s Hospital. In June, researchers from Lyndra published findings from a study demonstrating long-term — over 7 days — delivery in dogs of memantine, a drug to treat Alzheimer’s disease. The drug is applied to arms of a snowflake-shaped device folded into an ingestible capsule, with each arm made of polycaprolactone, or PCL, a biodegradable polymer.

After the capsule is swallowed, stomach acid breaks down the outer capsule, releasing and unfolding the drug-laden snowflake. By altering the mix of PCL and drug on each of the arms, these devices can be designed to release the drugs over many days, with the arms of the device passing through the gastrointestinal tract without harming the test animals. In December 2018, Science & Enterprise reported on a patent for the technology to be awarded to MIT and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, with Langer and Traverso among the inventors.

With funding from the Gates Foundation, Lyndra is developing a contraceptive pill containing estrogen and progestin, the same drugs in daily contraceptive pills, but released continuously over 30 days. Working with the group Routes2Results, Lyndra is expected to demonstrate the feasibility of this once-a-month pill in preclinical tests. Routes2Results is a not-for-profit organization that helps translate scientific research into better public health in developing regions.

“This grant is special because it extends our focus on meeting unmet therapeutic need into women’s health,” says Lyndra Therapeutics CEO Amy Schulman in a company statement. The Gates Foundation is also an investor in Lyndra, taking part in the company’s second venture financing round in January 2019. In addition, the Gates Foundation is funding Lyndra’s long-term drug formulation to treat malaria.

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