IIn an air-hungry meeting room in Manhattan's financial district, heavily pregnant particle physics Elina Berglund, 35, is explaining how she inadvertently passed from the forefront of scientific discovery to the forefront of birth control.
In the spring of 2012, the Swedish scientist worked in Geneva at Cern, where he was part of the team looking for the particle of the Higgs boson (the discovery would later win the Nobel Prize). It was then that he started looking for a natural alternative to hormonal contraceptives.
Pointing to the three small scars on his arm from where his prosthesis rested for 10 years, Berglund remembers not having wanted another one. "I was thinking:" OK, I want to have children in a few years, so what can I do to fill this gap? I felt like it was a good time to let my body go back to ovulate and come back back to normal before I wanted to get pregnant. "
To bypass the plant while controlling her fertility, she built an algorithm that analyzed her lowest resting temperature each day to determine whether or not she could get pregnant (women's basal body temperature increases after ovulation ). Soon, his colleagues wanted to try it.
During the honeymoon, her husband, Raoul Scherwitzl, who is also a physicist, suggested turning the algorithm into an app. He quickly saw the appeal: "I could see that so many women would benefit from it." Today their app, Natural Cycles, has more than one million registered users worldwide, $ 37.5 million in investments and 95 employees worldwide. It is the first app to be certified as a contraceptive in Europe and approved by the FDA to be marketed as birth control in the United States, where it officially launched this March for $ 9.99 a month.
At nine months pregnant with his second child, Berglund claims that the app worked successfully both as a contraceptive and as an idea. "I am a person who really likes to plan and optimize. I like to say exactly which month I want to get pregnant."
As a contraceptive, the app claims to be 93% effective with "typical use" and 98% effective with "perfect use". This compares to the typical 85% and 98% perfect for condoms, or 91% typical and 99% perfect for the pill, according to Planned Parenthood figures.
But last year, the effectiveness of Natural Cycles has been subjected to public scrutiny.
In January 2018, the Swedish Medical Products Agency (MPA) conducted a widely publicized survey after the Södersjukhuset hospital in Stockholm reported that 37 users of Natural Cycles had aborted over a period of time. four months. The MPA subsequently confirmed that the pregnancies were indeed in line with the failure rate of the product, but asked the company to "clarify the risk of unwanted pregnancies" in the instructions and in the app.
In retrospect, Berglund says that "it is not so strange that they launched this alarm because they were 37 pregnancies out of 668 and, of course, if there is a new product … However, what was a bit strange it was that they even came out with a press release on it. "He says he also found their decision to include unusual typical usage errors.
In August, the Advertising Standards Authority in the UK established that a 2017 Facebook for Natural Cycles announcement that included "highly accurate" and "clinically proven" phrases was misleading. This, Berglund admits, was a mistake: "It makes no sense to talk about accuracy when it comes to contraception, you talk about effectiveness, so I think they are perfectly right."
When I ask her how she personally handles the unwanted pregnancies of users, she seems genuinely impressed. "This is really the negative side of work with contraception, which will never be 100% successful, so there will always be these failure rates. And these 37 women are not the first time I deal with unwanted pregnancies from Natural Cycles. to follow our users monthly and I … "takes a deep breath.
Through an exhalation, he continues: "It's always very difficult. You want to do something good and then you have a woman who contacts you because she couldn't do it, it's super difficult."
Users are encouraged to check their temperature at least five days a week as soon as they wake up and enter their information into the app to find out if they are on a "green" (non-fertile) or "red" (fertile) day. It also has a "pregnancy planning" mode.
The most common reason for unwanted pregnancies, says Berglund, is that people don't use protection on red days. If people used it perfectly and only on green days, you say that the failure rate would be 0.5% (the "perfect use" rate of 98% takes into account the failure of the condom). The reason it is not 100% effective, he explains, is because sometimes the body suddenly ovulates, or there is an increase in temperature that seems to ovulate, but it is not.
"My dream is if we could have a chip in the body that measures all the hormones directly," he says, somewhat optimistically. While it is almost possible at the academic level, he explains, it is by no means imminent from the consumer's point of view.
For now, however, his focus is on the United States, where he says he wants to learn from their experiences in Europe. Berglund and her husband moved from Stockholm to New York in September. So far, the response has been positive, both from the medical community and from users. But of course the US birth control arena has its own unique policy.
Women's health care in America is a key political battleground for the Trump administration. He recently announced that he will stop organizations calling on people to abort to receive government funding and attempted to limit access to contraception.
"As a European scientist, I'm obviously more pro giving women more options and letting them choose. I think it's more the right thing to do," says Berglund, who describes himself as a favorable choice.
But with Natural Cycles already collaborating with Title X – a government scheme that funds reproductive health care for low-income Americans – to give free access to disadvantaged women in New Hampshire, it seems that Berglund intends to get involved in politics be inevitable.
How would you feel if your app was used by the Trump administration to devalue women by limiting access to other birth control methods? "Well, I haven't seen this yet. If I did, of course I'd fight it. But not yet." The company doesn't share, he says, personal data.
Berglund says that many pharmaceutical companies are cutting funds for women's health. He hopes the boom in the femtech industry (expected to be worth $ 50 billion by 2025) will be able to intervene to fill it with more products to and from women.
And what about birth control solutions for men? Berglund plans to stick to women's health for now, but hopes to see more male options in the future. Men, he says, have been resistant to enduring the kinds of side effects that women experience from hormonal contraception in studies, which does not encourage research.
"I think it's very sad because, you know … why do we have to face it?"
Having worked in two typically male sectors, physics and technology, Berglund claims to have been lucky to work among women (Natural Cycles staff is 65% female and 35% male.) Believes that making these materials more attractive for women in some circumstances it might be as simple as changing them. Women, he says, are often more interested in programming as a means to an end, while men are more often interested in technology itself.
His daughter Alba, who is four, is already showing an interest in nature and the universe. When she is five, Berglund says she could start teaching her programming.
. (tagToTranslate) Sex (t) Contraception and family planning (t) Women (t) Health (t) Life and style (t) Science