Women will soon have access to a new non-hormonal contraceptive that promises to replace older birth control methods.
Women will soon have access to a new non-hormonal contraceptive that promises to replace older birth control methods.

Birth control coup could mark end of pill for women

Women will soon have access to a new type of non-hormonal contraceptive, which could replace other birth control measures such as the pill, thanks to an Adelaide-based inventor.

UniSA pharmaceutical scientist Professor Sanjay Garg, pictured, made the initial discovery more than 20 years ago, when he was a young postdoctoral researcher at Rush University, Chicago, US.

The US Food and Drug Administration has approved the vaginal gel for manufacture and sale as the first and only non-hormonal contraceptive.

"The beauty of this gel is the lack of active ingredients or drugs, it works to maintain and restore healthy vaginal pH, which is inhospitable for the survival of sperm," Prof Garg said.

"I feel very good about it. The drug development process is full of failures, it's rare to be associated with a product that makes it."

UniSA pharmaceutical scientist Professor Sanjay Garg initiated research into the development of a new vaginal gel, which has now been approved by the US FDA as the first and only non-hormonal contraceptive. Picture: Supplied.
UniSA pharmaceutical scientist Professor Sanjay Garg initiated research into the development of a new vaginal gel, which has now been approved by the US FDA as the first and only non-hormonal contraceptive. Picture: Supplied.

Prof Garg was named the first inventor on the patents filed back in 2000 and has remained involved in research and testing ever since.

"At the time when we were developing the gel there was concern around STDs and suspicion that infection may make women more vulnerable to HIV transmission," Professor Garg said. "We wanted to empower women with a product that they can control and use to protect themselves, especially high-risk populations such as female sex workers when men refuse to use a condom."

Clinical trials completed in 2018 led to the development of the gel which will be brought to market in the US by Evofem Biosciences, as Phexxi, a non-hormonal, on-demand, vaginal pH regulator contraceptive.

Now at UniSA, Prof Garg is developing a second-generation formulation. The current formulation must be administered no more than one hour before intercourse.

As with other "barrier methods" such as condoms, its success as a method of contraception depends on proper use.

 

The new non-hormonal gel, if used correctly, could replace the contraceptive pill.
The new non-hormonal gel, if used correctly, could replace the contraceptive pill.

In clinical trials, the 7-cycle cumulative pregnancy rate was 13.7 per cent, meaning the success rate was 86.3 per cent in clinical studies.

"If properly and regularly used, it can replace the contraceptive pill," Prof Garg said.

"However, a major advantage of this product is its application as 'on demand' method, similar to a condom. Also, a woman can use it without her male partner even knowing about it, which is very important in many cultures. And, there are none of the side effects associated with hormones."

However, even if the gel becomes a "blockbuster" for the pharmaceutical company, it will not make Prof Garg rich. He will not receive any royalties from product sales.

Originally published as SA birth control coup could mark end of pill


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