Lyndra Therapeutics bags $13M Gates grant to develop once-monthly contraceptive pill

Lyndra Therapeutics, the MIT spinout working on a capsule designed to deliver “ultralong-acting” drugs, picked up $13 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to work on a contraceptive pill that only needs to be taken once a month.

The grant is part of the Gates Foundation’s Family Planning program aimed at bringing contraceptive information, services and supplies to women in low- and middle-income countries. Lyndra will use the funds to create a once-monthly pill that delivers a continuous dose of the hormones estrogen and progestin with a focus on proving the pill can stay in the body for a whole month, the company said in a statement.

“This grant is special because it extends our focus on meeting unmet therapeutic need into women’s health,” said Lyndra co-founder and CEO Amy Schulman in the statement. “We are proud to be part of the foundation’s effort to improve lives and ensure better health outcomes by making it easier to access and benefit from family planning.”

And that’s not all—the Gates Foundation, one of the company’s series B investors, also provided a grant for its malaria program.

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Watertown, Massachusetts-based Lyndra spun out of Bob Langer’s lab at MIT in 2015. About the size of a vitamin, its “ultralong-acting” pill opens up into a star shape in a patient’s stomach, where it will stay and release a drug or combination of drugs for days to weeks, said Schulman in 2016 when the company published a study showing the pill delivered a controlled release of a malaria drug in pigs. Once its job is done, the pill breaks down at a predetermined point in time to pass safely through the gastrointestinal tract.

Lyndra reeled in a $55 million series B round in January from HOPU Investments, Gilead Sciences, Invus and Orient Life as well as from the Gates Foundation. Polaris Partners and the rest of the company’s series A backers also chipped in. The next month, Fujifilm joined in too, bringing the total to $60 million. Lyndra is using the proceeds to expand its early-stage pipeline, bolster manufacturing and carry out a phase 2 study of a schizophrenia treatment slated for 2020.

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The benefits of a longer-acting pill are obvious. Replacing a pill that needs to be taken daily or multiple times a day with a weekly or monthly pill would ease the treatment burden on both patients and caregivers and improve adherence.

“People around the world depend on medications that require taking a pill every single day or even multiple times a day,” said Schulman in 2016. “That approximately 50% of patients in the developed world do not take their medicines as prescribed, a statistic that is even more challenging in the developing world, has a demonstrable effect on healthcare outcomes and a cost estimates to the U.S. healthcare system alone of over $100 billion annually.”

In addition to its contraceptive and malaria programs, Lyndra’s pipeline includes once-weekly treatments for various targets including psychiatric disorders, cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, immunology, HIV and an Allergan-partnered pill for Alzheimer’s disease.