Photo: BioInnovation Institute

Shifting the Paradigm of Birth Control: A Danish ­Start-Up Is Engineering Mucus at the Molecular Level

Cirqle Biomedical is developing a contraceptive that promises to leverage the natural properties of the female body, without any negative side effects.

Since the birth control pill was introduced over 60 years ago, there has not been much innovation in this niche area. Of course, there are other types of delivery methods, but they are all based on the same hormonal principles.

The paradigm shift began because of his girlfriend’s dissatisfaction with ”the pill.” Frederik Petursson Madsen, the CEO of Cirqle Biomedical, went on to investigate the hormone-free alternatives available on the market.

Thomas was looking for an application or problem where his research could be applied. I came up with the problem. In fact, ours is a very typical innovation process.
Frederik Petursson Madsen

According to Madsen: “It has been well-established that birth control pills have negative side effects. Many of us saw that at the individual level through discussions. This has been confirmed on a larger scale over the last few years by data from more than 1 million pill users, showing an increased risk of depression and reduced well-being.”

Problem meets solution

This is the origin story for Cirqle Biomedical. Dispensing with incremental innovation, the company investigates whether a product can be created free of unwanted side effects. This is particularly timely considering 9/10 women using a modern contraceptive rely on hormonal therapy.

After 2 years of searching for a solution or a technology that could do what the market was clearly demanding, Madsen visited The Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. There, he was introduced to Thomas Crouzier, who researches mucus.

French-born Crouzier started researching mucus during his postdoc fellowship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He then established a research group in Stockholm that developed the technology that Madsen had been looking for.

Describing their dynamic, Madsen remarks: “Thomas was looking for an application or problem where his research could be applied. I came up with the problem. In fact, ours is a very typical innovation process.”

Shifting the paradigm through molecular mucus engineering

The cervix is naturally filled with ​​a mucus gel that functions as a natural contraceptive. Throughout most of a woman’s cycle, it is thick and serves as a barrier to sperm, but around ovulation, hormonal changes make the barrier more watery and penetrable.

Knowing this, the core of their solution is to leverage this natural barrier: ”Our product is a vaginally-inserted capsule containing a unique biopolymer. The biopolymer crosslinks the ovulatory cervical mucus so that the sperm cannot swim through it,” Madsen explains.

In fact, the product does so well that they are now testing the solution on large animals whose reproductive systems resemble human beings. Their early successes indicate that the technology may be ready for human trials within two years.

Cirqle Biomedical has already secured funding from a US fund that specializes in reproductive health. Earlier this year, they were also admitted to the biotechnology innovation hub incubator, BioInnovation Institute (BII), in the Creation House incubator programme.

For Madsen, becoming part of BII has made a really big difference: ”They have managed to build a bridge between research and venture capital. It has helped us attract talented people and put in place a solid plan that we are now executing, so we can create a new paradigm in contraception.”