Menu

Monthly Contraceptive Pill Shows Promise in Pig Study

A device that releases synthetic hormones slowly over time could one day provide a more practical alternative to daily birth control pills, say scientists.

Dec 5, 2019
Catherine Offord

ABOVE: © ISTOCK.COM, AREEYA_ANN

Researchers at MIT have developed an oral contraceptive pill that releases hormones slowly into the stomach with the goal of developing a product that only needs to be taken on a once-a-month basis. A trial of the device in pigs, described yesterday (December 4) in Science Translational Medicine, indicates that the technology is as good as the daily birth control pill at maintaining high levels of contraceptive hormones in the blood.

“The concept of a monthly oral contraceptive pill is attractive and has the potential to broaden contraceptive choice,” Diana Mansour, vice president of the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare in the UK, tells the BBC. “However, the development of such a novel contraceptive is still in its early stages. We look forward to further research in this area.”

While the oral contraceptive pill is up to 99 percent effective for women who take one a day, that efficacy drops with every missed dose, meaning that in reality, about nine women in every 100 become pregnant while on the pill.

The technology described in the current study consists of a star-shaped device, packed into a capsule for easy swallowing. Once it reaches the stomach, the capsule dissolves and the device unfolds, becoming too large to exit the stomach easily but not large enough to create an obstruction.

There, it begins gradually releasing levonorgestrel, a synthetic progestogen, and continues to do so over the next few weeks. After having released its contents, it breaks down and can pass safely through the digestive system.

When they tested the device in six female pigs, the researchers found that levonorgestrel levels remained high in the blood even 21 days after administration of the pill, and was still detectable after 29 days. By contrast, five pigs given a single oral dose of levonorgestrel showed just trace amounts of the hormone in their blood two days later.

Lyndra Therapeutics, a spinoff company that several of the study’s coauthors are involved in, is now working on developing the technology to tailor dosages to humans and make sure the hormones are released at the right rate, The Guardian reports.

The same team has already used the technology to deliver other types of drugs, and study coauthor Robert Langer tells The Guardian that he envisages slow-release pills being applicable to many diseases in the future. “I hope there will be pills that people could swallow that could last for any length of time to treat different diseases, like mental health diseases and opioid addiction, Alzheimer’s, [AIDS].”

Catherine Offord is an associate editor at The Scientist. Email her at cofford@the-scientist.com.

January/February 2020

A Light in the Dark

Unpacking the Complex Neurobiology of Suicide

Marketplace

Sponsored Product Updates

Distek, Inc. Awarded the Prestigious IDEA Bronze Trophy for the BIOne 1250 Bioprocess Control System
Distek, Inc. Awarded the Prestigious IDEA Bronze Trophy for the BIOne 1250 Bioprocess Control System
Distek, Inc., a leading manufacturer of laboratory testing instruments for the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry for over 40 years, along with our industrial design partner -  Phase One Design, has been awarded the IDEA (International Design Excellence Awards) Bronze trophy for the BIOne 1250 Bioprocess Control System.
Bio-Rad Enters RNA-Seq Library Prep Market with Launch of the SEQuoia Complete Stranded RNA Library Prep Kit
Bio-Rad Enters RNA-Seq Library Prep Market with Launch of the SEQuoia Complete Stranded RNA Library Prep Kit
Bio-Rad Laboratories, Inc. (NYSE: BIO and BIOb) today announced the launch of the SEQuoia Complete Stranded RNA Library Prep Kit, a novel approach to RNA-Seq library preparation.
Inductive Charging Stand from BrandTech® Scientific
Inductive Charging Stand from BrandTech® Scientific
 NEW! An inductive charging stand is now available for the BRAND® HandyStep® touch and HandyStep® touch S repeating pipettes.
Horizon Discovery signs collaboration and license agreement with Mammoth Biosciences
Horizon Discovery signs collaboration and license agreement with Mammoth Biosciences
Aims to develop the next generation of engineered CHO cell lines, to improve production of biotherapeuticsBioproduction is a key business unit within Horizon, this agreement underlines strategy to focus on core markets