Around one-third of women taking the oral contraceptive pill say they forget at least one dose each month. But perhaps soon, that fear of forgetting could be a thing of the past.
Scientists from MIT and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston have made strong progress on their mission to develop a once-a-month oral contraceptive pill. Reporting their findings in the journal Science Translational Medicine, the team developed a drug-delivery vehicle that’s able to remain in the stomach for a month and steadily release the oral contraceptive drug levonorgestrel.
It’s still early days for the research – so far, the tablet has only been tested in preclinical trials on pigs, an animal with a similar gastrointestinal tract to humans – but the team is confident their work has the potential to “empower women” and become a viable alternative to the one-a-day contraceptive pill.
"Our capsule represents a major advancement toward providing women with a once-a-month contraceptive," co-corresponding author Giovanni Traverso, a gastroenterologist and physician-researcher at the Brigham and MIT, said in a press release.
"We began our work on extended drug release by working with treatments for malaria, tuberculosis and HIV. But early on, we were having conversations about the potential impact that extended drug release could have for family planning. We wanted to help empower women with respect to fertility control and are pleased to report our progress toward that goal," they continued.
The newly developed pill consists of a “gastric resident” capsule with numerous arms that are loaded with levonorgestrel. Once the tablet hits the stomach, it unfolds the arms to have a span that is larger than the opening of the small intestine, allowing it to remain in the stomach. Meanwhile, the tablet gradually lets the arms go one-by-one, releasing them further into the intestines where they can be absorbed. IFLScience contacted the authors for more specifics on this process, but they have yet to respond.
To test the efficiency of the pill, the team gave pigs the levonorgestrel – half in an extended-release tablet, half in a standard tablet – and compared concentrations of the drug in their bloodstream. As hoped, they team detected concentrations of the drug for up to 29 days after the pigs swallowed the pill. Their tests also suggest the material used for the tablet are non-toxic.
The research paves the way for human trials. However, it might be some years until this treatment actually makes it onto the shelves of pharmacies. Even if the science checks out, the bureaucracy and business of drug development can be a long and arduous battle.