OUI is developed by Cirqle Biomedical. Our mission is to create a next generation contraceptive technology to replace hormonal birth control as the go-to option for women.
We first asked "what would the ideal contraceptive look like" and then searched for the technology to solve the challenge.
Who's on the team?
Where did the idea originate?
The story of OUI starts from a user-centered approach to innovation. Frederik says “my empathy for the birth control problem started when my girlfriend told me that she wanted to stop using the pill because of the side-effects. I think it’s fair to say that most men are not very aware of birth control and their side-effects but the more we talked about her and her friends' experiences, the more I realized the magnitude of the problem and the lack of non-hormonal alternatives. Without any appealing product available, we looked into what products were in development, only to find that the pharmaceutical companies that sell birth control have stopped research into new technologies years ago.”
Challenging the status quo
“I naively decided to challenge the status quo by applying one of the ideas we are taught as MBA students. The theory says that technological innovation required to solve a problem often already exists, it’s only a matter of coupling the two to create a groundbreaking product. It’s a good theory, but it took more than 2 years of talking with users, researchers, and multiple conceptual dead-ends before the breakthrough.”
“I met Thomas Crouzier at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, when we were looking at ways to create a more effective diaphragm. A barrier product could enable the female controlled, on-demand and non-systemic product that we felt was needed today. Our search was therefore focused on finding a material to replace the silicone material of a traditional diaphragm. But it became clear that we had a potential breakthrough when Thomas started presenting his research on mucus engineering. Instead of adding a new barrier, we could potentially reinforce nature's own barrier - cervical mucus.”
Thomas says “since I have started research I have been fascinated by the materials that compose our body and by the possibilities to create and modify them for medical purposes. In 2011, I had just finished a PhD in biomaterials engineering in France when I headed for a research group working on mucus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT. There, I learned about the important role of mucus, the protective gel that covers our nose, eyes, respiratory, digestive and reproductive tract. During my stay in that group, I combined my background in biomaterial engineering with the field of mucus, and started considering mucus as a material that one could engineer, rather than only a piece of our physiology. In 2015, I carried this mucus engineering approach across the Atlantic and over to Stockholm, Sweden where I started an independent research group exploring this concept further.”
“We started our work by trying to reinforce the barrier properties of mucus with polymers that interact with mucus, tighten its mesh, and close its pores We eventually succeeded in slowing down the diffusion of small molecules though mucus, something that had been attempted before without success. From these experiments, resulted in the technology now at the core of this new contraceptive.”
How did it grow from there?
Thomas says, “After doing preliminary research on the concept we were able to setup collaboration with Karolinska University Hospital to collect ovulatory cervical mucus and sperm. Using the donated materials, we tested our approach in an artificial cervical canal developed in our lab. It quickly became clear that the idea worked and we had achieved the vital proof of concept.”
Ljudmila says, “We are working on advancing the research into animal models and validate the properties of our target biopolymer. The near term goal is to advance the technology to a stage where it is ready for the first in-human study. We need to solve the numerous challenges ahead of us but we are also thinking about the bigger picture. OUI, is the first product concept we reveal but to truly usher in a new era in birth control we will need to cover the full reproductive life of women. This is what we're working on.”