Scientists have developed a new oral contraception pill which only needs to be taken once a month.
The experts behind the tablet say it could reduce the amount of unwanted pregnancies among women who forget to take their birth control.
Surveys have shown in the past that half of those taking the oral contraceptive miss at least one dose over a three month period.
And from those who forget to take their tablet, at least 9% of users fall pregnant each year.
Researchers have tested their monthly drug on pigs and expect human trials to begin within three years.
Animals given the monthly tablet had the same level of the medicine in their bloodstream as those given it daily.
It was still present 29 days after administration, Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found.
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The new pill is formed of six arms containing levonorgestrel, which are folded up into a capsule that can be swallowed. Once they’re in the stomach, the arms unfold at different times, releasing the drug.
Dr Giovanni Traverso, from Harvard, said: “Our capsule represents a major advancement toward providing women with a once-a-month contraceptive.
“For many, this may be hard to believe but our preclinical data is encouraging us along that road.
“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.”
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Dr Ameya Kirtane, from MIT believes the pill could also be appealing to women who like long-last contraception but do not wish to have the implant.
He added: “Coming up with a monthly version of a contraceptive drug could have a tremendous impact on global health.
“The impact that oral contraceptives can have on human health and gender equality cannot be overstated.
“Even with all these long-acting devices available, there’s a certain population who prefers to take medications orally rather than have something implanted. For those patients, something like this would be extremely helpful.”
More than 3.1 million women in England take the contraception pill each year to prevent pregnancies.
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The British Pregnancy Advisory Service explained: “We welcome the potential development of a once-a-month contraceptive pill which bridges the gap between the 60-year-old oral contraceptive pill and more modern long acting methods.
“Bpas research has previously shown that almost half of women would be interested in using a form of once-a-month pill to control their fertility. We know many women do not want to have to take a daily pill.
“Holidays and lifestyle changes can make difficult to remember every day, leaving some women at risk of unwanted pregnancy.
“Women need new ways to plan their families that fit in with their lives in the 21st Century. The greater the range of contraceptive options, the better we can support women to avoid unplanned pregnancies.”
The findings are published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
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