Tao Lowe, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Biomedical Engineering in the College of Pharmacy at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), has developed a long-lasting contraception formulation technology, making access to effective, affordable contraception closer to a reality.

Contraceptive shots are a popular method of family planning; however, most commercially available injections, such as Depo-Provera, last for one to three months. Women who rely on this form of contraception must visit their doctor at least four times a year to get additional shots. The cost and time associated with multiple injection schedules can be burdensome to women, especially those who are from low-income communities or developing countries.

With funding from FHI360 and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Dr. Lowe and her research team developed a subcutaneously injectable in situ gelling polymeric solution system that can deliver a sustained release of contraceptives for 6 – 12 months following a single injection. This technology uses a drug delivery system consisting of polymers and solvents to deliver the medication, Levonorgestrel (LNG), the same active pharmaceutical ingredient used in Plan B emergency contraception. The amount of LNG released can be tailored for each patient, allowing coverage for as few as six months or up to a maximum of 12 months. The goal is for each injection to cost under four dollars, making it affordable for most women. A smaller needle size (21-23G needle vs. 19G needle for a similar technology) enhances comfort and improves patient compliance. Because it is a subcutaneous injection, the patient could potentially inject the contraceptive herself without having to go to a hospital or doctor’s office for treatment.

“This technology addresses a gap in the current contraceptive market,” said Dr. Lowe. “Most forms of injectable contraceptives last for only a few months. Others last up to two years and must be surgically implanted. Our contraception technology is unlike others in the marketplace. It can be adjusted to last anywhere from six to twelve months, is affordable, and can be administered by the patient.”

Dr. Lowe co-authored a paper on this technology, Injectable In Situ Forming Depot Systems for Long Acting Contraception, which was published in the August 2017 issue of Advanced BioSystems. This paper is the first of three papers to be published on this project. The contraceptive technology has not gone through clinical trials, and Dr. Lowe is actively searching for a commercial partner to help her advance through that phase and onto the commercial market.

Dr. Lowe is appreciative of the support she received from the University of Tennessee Research Foundation (UTRF) throughout the duration of her research. UTRF was instrumental in connecting Dr. Lowe with the FHI360/Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant opportunity and assisted her with the application process. They have also played an important role in aggressively marketing the technology, moving it toward commercialization.

“The technology Dr. Lowe and her team have developed will make offering low-cost and effective contraception a reality for women across the globe,” said Richard Magid, PhD, Vice President of UTRF for UTHSC. “UTRF is eager to assist all of our inventors from kick-starting projects to securing funding and facilitating commercialization.”

Dr. Lowe and her research team plan to continue developing their contraceptive technology to make it more robust and are working to expand its use to create contraceptive solutions for pets. She foresees this technology being applied as a drug delivery platform for the long-term release of drugs in addition to contraceptives to treat a variety of diseases.