Cirqle Biomedical provide women with a non-hormonal and safe contraceptive. For some people, this might sound like an impossible combination of characteristics for a contraceptive. It is not. Cirqle Biomedical will implement a capsule allowing birth control to be as enjoyable as a walk in the park.
It all began when Frederik Petursson Madsen’s girlfriend declared that she would no longer take the pill. As he started learning more about hormonal contraception, he realised that he would not use it himself either. Suddenly, he was on a mission. By digging deeper into the subject, Frederik realised that the market lacks a serious alternative to hormonal contraceptives which have dominated since the launch of the birth control pill 60 years ago. There was a critical problem with the existing contraception options. After 6 years of hard work and dedication to solve this problem, Frederik and his colleagues in Cirqle Biomedical have developed “OUI” - a capsule that modifies the natural layer of cervical mucus to be impenetrable for sperm cells. “OUI” revolutionises the existing contraceptive market as the product can tick off “non-invasive”, “high efficacy” and “no side effects” on the wish-list for women. These properties are crucial because as Frederik frames it:
“The users are young and healthy therefore it is of utmost importance that contraception has minimal side effects”
Cirqle has managed to address that criterion with great success.
Say “OUI” and you will find your dream solution to birth control
An emerging focus on the consequences of using hormonal contraceptives for women has arisen in recent years - and with good reason. Several studies emphasise the yet unmet need for a non-hormonal, non-systemic and non-side effect contraceptive. Many women experience mental challenges, for example a decrease in general well-being, less perseverance for cognitive tasks and depressive symptoms (1). Besides that, the well-known physical complications like increased risk of venous thrombosis, weight gain and nausea are rather inconvenient. The demand for a product that evades all these invasive effects is tremendously high. Frederik discovered this by extensive preliminary investigations. In collaboration with a researcher from a hospital in Copenhagen, he drew on interviews with thousands of women who expressed prevalent frustrations over non-existent alternative contraceptives to hormone-based ones. In a survey conducted by Cirqle in the US among 1500 representative women, 49% expressed they found it very or extremely important that their contraceptive is hormone free. Yet only 14% actually use non-hormonal contraceptives which remarkably prove the absence of simple alternatives. “OUI” is about to change that. Frederik explains why:
“Available products that are effective are also invasive either by being hormone-based, which for example affects the brain and your personality, or have severe and painful side effects like the copper IUD. Among the non-hormonal and side effect free products we have condoms that are theoretically safe but the compliance is low and in actual use the efficacy is only around 80%. Diaphragms are an option as well but they are difficult to use. With our product we zoom out and comply with all these concerns at once with an easy-to-use and non-hormonal option.”
The innovative solution
Having established there was a huge potential market for Frederik’s intended product, the time had come to find a technique that would provide the solution. Two years were spent interacting with various researchers in the field of biomaterials before his search eventually sent Frederik to Stockholm. At KTH the Royal Institute of Technology, Thomas Crouzier was pioneering mucus engineering. These were initially not intended to substitute hormonal contraception. At least not until Thomas and Frederik met. Thomas’ technology could reinforce the natural mucus barrier already present in the cervix to be denser and more resistant. Frederik had finally discovered the right kind of material to use in the invention of his product.
An artificial cervix model was designed in the lab. With donor sperm and mucus, the in vitro proof-of-concept was soon displayed and demonstrated an absolute block for sperm cells. The co-founders immediately patented the technique, raised funding from Rhia Ventures and BII, founded Cirqle Biomedical in early 2019 and hired a team.
“From the very beginning, we have focused on the user’s requirements to drive our research. The relation to a contraceptive is unique and intimate. It is essential that the user appreciate the interaction with the product.”
With this user-oriented drive, Cirqle developed an animal model to establish in vivo proof-of-concept that shows superior efficacy to existing non-hormonal contraceptives. Currently, Cirqle is in dialogue with the FDA regarding how clinical trials in humans could be managed. Once that is specified, they will proceed with their efforts in bringing “OUI” to the market, preferably within 5 years.
Finishing remarks from the CEO
Personally, I find Frederik and Cirqles story exceptionally inspirational. If any readers have become keener on trying out the entrepreneurial career path here is some valuable advice from Frederik:
“The most vital step is to outline the need for your product in mind on the market. Try to understand what issue the product solves and whether this solution is in demand. What impact will it have on society? If it is sufficient and meaningful to you, then the project is worth it. But bear in mind, such a project consumes a lot of time and requires personal resilience to succeed.”
Left to say is only to stay tuned on Cirqle’s activities. They are about to introduce a game changing contraceptive enabling women to control pregnancy without mental or physical consequences. That is the definition of noteworthy.
Maja Kofod Dam-Jensen