The combined oral contraceptive pill is used by millions of women around the world. When used effectively, it’s around 99% effective; however, studies show that almost half of users forget to take their pills at the right time and will occasionally miss doses, reducing its effectiveness.
To try and help these women and give them more control over their fertility, researchers in the US have developed a new oral contraceptive pill that can be taken once a month. After being swallowed, the pill stays in the stomach and slowly releases hormones to prevent pregnancy.
The pill is designed to resist an immediate attack by acid in the stomach, making it a long-lasting contraceptive, in line with other long-term choices, such as monthly or bi-monthly injections, implants, and patches that need to be changed each week.
At the moment, the daily pill’s actual effectiveness is around 91%, which means 9 out of every 100 women taking it will get pregnant each year. The researchers say this is a good option for women who want to take an oral contraceptive, but are worried about forgetting doses.
The prototype is an easy-to swallow star shaped dissolvable capsule, roughly the same size as a fish oil tablet. Once it reaches the stomach, it releases hormones through its arms and, at the end of the month, it will be broken down and excreted from the body.
Dr Giovanni Traverso, from Harvard Medical School, who developed the prototype with colleagues at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said: “Our studies suggest there shouldn’t be any problem with blockages or digesting and passing food. We take safety very seriously.”
The team, who are funded by The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have tested the product in pigs and hope to start running human trials in the next few years. They have also began testing the design in patients to see if it could be used in future, not just for contraceptives, but for other drugs, too.
With the funds they are received, it’s hoped that the new contraceptive pill could be developed in the coming years.