Drug company bosses have been accused of holding back the British launch of a pioneering contraceptive pill that could transform birth control for women.
The medication, Slynd, contains progestogen only – given to women who cannot take oestrogen. It causes fewer side effects and is more effective at preventing pregnancies than other oestrogen-free medications, such as the common mini pill.
But its main attraction is that while other contraceptive pills have to be taken during a short time window every day or they become ineffective, Slynd can be taken at any time during a 24-hour period.
British women are being denied a revolutionary new contraceptive pill which has fewer side effects than other alternatives and is more effective by eliminating the narrow time window of other options
The breakthrough tablet has been widely available in America and Australia since 2019 and received its UK licence in March last year from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency.
But The Mail on Sunday has learned that manufacturer Exeltis has not applied to the NHS financial watchdog, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), for approval – a vital step before any medication can be rolled out in the UK and a process that typically takes a year.
Exeltis has also not provided any information on Slynd to the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare, which assesses and provide guidelines on all contraceptives, and would not give any indication as to when it might do so.
Doctors have hailed Slynd as revolutionary and hoped it would be available by the summer. However, this looks increasingly unlikely.
GP and women’s health expert Dr Philippa Kaye said: ‘If a drug is good, why hold it back? Why is it being kept from women who could benefit?’ She added: ‘Most types of Pill have to be taken within a three-hour window, but women aren’t robots – we forget, or we go away for the weekend. Anything that allows a bit more slack in the system and gives more choice is hugely positive.’
In America, Slynd is one of the most expensive contraceptive pills on the market, costing roughly £147 per month, while the pills available on prescription in the UK typically cost the NHS under £8 a month.
Insiders suggest Exeltis may be dragging its heels as it is unwilling to negotiate with the NHS on a cheaper deal. ‘In America, the insurance companies are paying for it,’ said the source. ‘The company are making their money, so perhaps they see little reason to launch in the UK.’
There are two types of contraceptive pill: the combined pill, which contains synthetic versions of the hormones oestrogen and progestogen, and the mini pill, also known as the progestogen-only pill, which contains synthetic progestogen. Both prevent pregnancy, but some women can’t take the combined pill, including those who have had breast cancer or suffered blood clots, or have a family history of them, as oestrogen can raise the risks.
Women who suffer migraines are also often unable to take the combined pill as it worsens symptoms. Gynaecologist Dr Ellie Rayner, founder of The Maternity Collective which offers antenatal classes, said she has many patients who would benefit from the new pill, adding: ‘Anything that provides an easier way for women to take a pill more reliably is a good thing.’
One woman who agrees is Lucy Jones, 39, a financial adviser from London. The married mother-of-two was on the mini pill when she discovered she was pregnant with her first child Harry, now six.
She said: ‘I’d been on the mini pill since my late teens. I used to tape the packet to my light switch to make sure I took it every morning at the same time.’
But in 2014 a bout of food poisoning gave rise to what Lucy calls ‘the happiest accident of my life’.
She said: ‘I was sick and that must have flushed the pill out of my system. I didn’t even realise I was pregnant for about three months – my periods were quite erratic anyway, so I didn’t realise I was late.
‘I took a pregnancy test and was totally floored to see two blue lines. ‘I’d just landed my dream job and I was in a new relationship with my now husband. To say it was stressful would be an understatement.
‘My son is brilliant. But it put me off taking the pill. My husband and I use condoms now – and not using one, once, was how I ended up pregnant a second time. We don’t want any more kids, so a pill that is less hassle would make things easier.’
Last night an Exeltis spokesman failed to explain why it had not launched Slynd in the UK, adding: ‘It is not yet available and the exact timing cannot be confirmed.’