June 17, 2010

Will New Emergency Contraception Drug UPA, Win FDA Approval?

Guest Blogger Makenzi Brock writes about a (controversial) alternative that gives women two more days to prevent conception

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It’s a busy week at the Food and Drug Administration, and women’s sexuality is at the forefront.

Besides a review of Filbanserin to treat women’s sexual desire, an alternative form of emergency contraception, already on the market in at least 22 countries worldwide, is going for review to the FDA.

But the chemical make-up of the drug is raising questions on how it actually works, and enflaming the already precarious debate surrounding the issue of reproductive rights in America.

Ulipristal acetate (UPA), a form of emergency contraception developed by the French pharmaceutical company HRA Pharma, has been available in Europe as an alternative to existing forms of emergency contraception.

A recent study conducted by The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in several Planned Parenthoods across the country found that UPA was able to prevent pregnancy for up to 120 hours after unprotected intercourse.

Developed as an alternative to levonorgestrel, which is the most commonly used form of emergency contraception worldwide, UPA has been marketed in Europe under the name ellaOne since October 2009.

Levonorgestrel, the drug colloquially known as “the morning-after pill,”  is sold in America under the name Plan B.  It has been approved to prevent conception for up to only 72 hours after unprotected sex.

Plan B is more effective the sooner it is ingested, and is currently the only form of emergency contraception approved for use in the US aside from the insertion of an emergency IUD.

Debating the Line Between Contraception and Abortion

As the Washington Post reported last weekend, UPA is chemically a relative of RU-486, known in America most commonly as the abortion pill.  Both pills work by blocking the hormone progesterone, which is vital to both conception and pregnancy.

Opponents of the drug’s approval question whether UPA, once ingested, could possibly induce a very early abortion on an unknowingly pregnant woman, especially if taken in high dosages   To date, no studies have been conducted on the effects of UPA in higher dosages than that which is required to merely prevent conception from occurring.

When first introduced, Plan B was also scrutinized by many of the groups that now oppose the approval of UPA.  HRA Phamra stands by the research that states that UPA is safe for use as emergency contraception, and has been found to cause only minor side effects not much different from that of Plan B.

The company has no plans to test UPA as an abortion drug.

You might want to check out the FDA hearings as they happen.

Makenzi Brock is an undergraduate student at Indiana University and a student volunteer at The Kinsey Institute.   Makenzi’s focuses are Journalism and Gender Studies.