Stories from Hormone Health

9 Percent of Birth Control Pill Users Get Pregnant Every Year—This New Pill Could Change That

Kells McPhillips

Kells McPhillipsDecember 5, 2019

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Photo: Getty Images/Tatâna Maramygina and EyeEm

Despite the fact that birth control pills are 99 percent effective, 9 percent of women who take oral contraceptives get pregnant each year. The reality is that life often gets in the way of taking a pill at the same time each day, and every once and a while you forget entirely. A monthly birth control pill—currently being developed by a team of researchers at MIT and Brigham and Women’s Hospital—could offer an option that removes human error from the equation.

In a report published Thursday in the journal Science Transitional Medicine, the group of researchers announced that they’ve designed a polymer (a large molecule) that can withstand the acidic environment of the human stomach for about 30 days. After infusing the polymer with levonorgestrel, a progestin often found in birth control, the team conducted a test on pigs. Tthey discovered that the once-monthly contraceptive released the same amount of levonorgestrel into the pig’s bloodstream on a daily basis as the daily pill.

“With a progestin-only pill, timing is important to maintain a steady-state of the hormonal concentration in the body, thus preventing pregnancy,” says Kecia Gaither, MD, a double board-certified OB/GYN and maternal fetal medicine doctor. The monthly pill would ensure that steady-state happened throughout the month—without having to make it a daily habit.

Currently, the only long-lasting birth control methods are more invasive options like implants and IUDs, so the simplicity and convenience of the pill could make many millions of lives easier. And beyond that, the researchers are hopeful that the same polymer technology could be used to administer drugs for delivering medicine to those with HIV, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and more. “We see an enormous number of potential applications,” says Robert Langer, a chemical engineer at MIT whose company, Lyndra Therapeutics, will prepare the pill to be tested on human subjects. “We are very optimistic and confident that we can get this to humans in coming years.”

How to get birth control delivered straight to your door—no matter where you live. Plus, why over-the-counter birth control may be available soon.

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