NEWS: Pfizer and Aid Groups Team Up on Depo-Provera Contraceptive for Developing World

Pfizer and Aid Groups Team Up on Depo-Provera Contraceptive for Developing World

Depo-Provera, an injectable contraceptive given once every three months, is already a popular choice of women in developing countries, who value the convenience and discretion of not having to take a
daily
birth control
 pill.

But the injections are out of reach for many more women because they live in rural areas that are too far from a health clinic to make the treatments practical.

Now, a major collaboration between Pfizer,
the drug’s manufacturer, and several global aid groups is aiming to change that by providing financing to make a new version of the drug — redesigned with developing countries in mind — available in 69 nations throughout Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern
Europe.

The new product, called the Sayana Press, is a single-use syringe designed to be portable and easy to use. Depo-Provera is typically injected into the muscle by health care workers who must first draw
the drug into a syringe from a glass vial. The new product has been reformulated into a lower dose and uses an existing device, called a Uniject
system, that looks like a plastic bubble with a short needle attached. It is injected under the skin by squeezing the bubble and can be administered with minimal training.

“You can imagine somebody sticking this in their satchel and going into a very remote area,” said Peter Stevenson, vice president for portfolio management at Pfizer’s
Global Established Pharmaceuticals.

The product is
already being used
 in several African countries, but Pfizer said it planned to expand distribution through a financial partnership that would allow the product, which typically costs about $1.50 a dose,
to be sold to health care institutions in those countries for about $1. Several groups, including the Bill
and Melinda Gates Foundation
 and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, as well as the United States Agency for International Development, will help subsidize the cost and assist in introducing it in
countries around the globe. Women will most likely receive the product free or at a reduced cost.

Chris Elias, president for global development at the Bill
and Melinda Gates Foundation
, said the Sayana Press could be an important new choice for the estimated 225 million women worldwide who would like access to contraception
but do not have it. “Family planning is an important priority for us, and this is expanding the range of methods,” he said.

Pfizer declined to comment on the revenue it expected to generate from sales of the Sayana Press, but John Young, president of Pfizer’s Global Established Pharmaceuticals, said it was not seen as a major
revenue driver for the company. Depo-Provera sells to health institutions in those countries for about 75 cents a dose.

Dr. Amitasrigowri S. Murthy, an assistant professor at NYU Langone Medical Center in the department of obstetrics and gynecology, did not work on the project but said the Sayana Press carried advantages
because injecting Depo-Provera into muscle requires the skills of a knowledgeable health care worker. With the new product, “you press it and it injects it,” she said. “It’s similar to insulin.”

Fiona Walugembe, who is overseeing the introduction of the Sayana Press in Uganda through the global health group PATH, said women were eager to hear about the new product. About a third of Ugandan women
have no access to family planning options, she said.

She said many women like Depo-Provera because they do not have to tell their husbands that they are using a contraceptive. Now, they will not have to make a long trip four times a year to receive the
injections.

“It is exciting,” she said. “It is really a big thing.”