Rachel Teitelbaum.

The Israeli startup developing the first new, non-hormonal contraceptive in 60 years

Hervana Bio Founder and CEO Rachel Teitelbaum spoke to CTech about their innovative new non-hormonal contraceptive with no side effects and with added protection against STIs, and about why funding is needed to access the $25 billion contraceptive market

“I’m the poster child for what you don’t expect,” says Rachel Teitelbaum, Founder and CEO of Hervana Bio, smiling. “You don’t expect the red-headed Orthodox lady to be developing a contraceptive.” Teitelbaum has been developing one of the first truly new and innovative contraception in 60 years. Hervana Bio is a biopharmaceutical company whose goal is to develop innovative products in women’s health. Their main product is a non-hormonal female contraceptive platform technology, which offers unique benefits including added protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
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Rachel Teitelbaum
Rachel Teitelbaum
Rachel Teitelbaum.
(Credit: Courtesy)
Teitelbaum, who has a PhD in microbiology and immunology, spent 20 years researching vaccines and infectious diseases. She spent a good portion of her doctoral studies looking at how bacteria pathogens interact with host mucosal surfaces which include lungs, skin, the gut and the reproductive tract. “The one place where you have a lot of consistency is the kind of bacteria that is present in the female reproductive tract,” she says. “I became interested in how we could utilize this kind of bacteria. We thought that we could use the bacteria and engineer it to produce antibodies against sperm.”
Hervana’s platform is based on a bacteria called lactobacilli, a very good natural bacteria that is often used in probiotic foods like yogurt, but is also highly conserved in the female reproductive tract, according to Teitelbaum. The scientific community has known about the benefits of lactobacilli for females even across species for years. It is often used to treat women with recurring yeast infections, and if you have a higher amount of this bacteria, you’re at a lower risk for STIs.
The contraceptive is currently administered as a vaginal tablet, though it could also be administered in other forms. Still in the middle of the trial stage, the contraceptive reports a 100% efficacy rate. It does not possess the side effects common among those who use hormonal contraceptives which affect 76% of women using them. It is also localized with minimal impact, and not painful or invasive like the insertion of an IUD which is inserted into the uterus via the cervix.
Users can also easily stop using it as the contraceptive is administered each month and sheds naturally during menstruation. “The beautiful thing about this platform is that we don’t use hormones, we don’t get rid of the cycle - we rely on the cycle. Certain types of bacteria are really present in ovulation and then get shed during menstruation. This offered a really great platform that one could harness to offer something different.”
This contraceptive also has the ability to prevent the contraction of STIs. “There are no female-controlled contraceptives that provide protection against STIs. We can’t claim that every woman who uses our product will be 100% protected, but their likelihood of contracting an STI compared to those who don’t use it is much smaller.”
Additionally, Teitelbaum notes that the concept of utilizing and engineering naturally present bacteria has implications beyond contraceptives. “We can engineer our strains of bacteria to do the opposite - to counteract premature birth and promote pregnancy by utilizing the same bacteria.”
However, Teitelbaum says that in order to pursue these avenues, they require more funding. Hervana, which has been funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is actively seeking funding. “FemTech isn’t the rainmaker for raising funds, especially contraceptives. This is a major reason as to why there hasn’t been a truly new contraceptive product in 60 years. We saw a massive release of COVID-19 vaccines based on RNA in less than a year. Four government grants of $35 billion helped that happen. If there was a prioritization of women’s health we would see better contraceptive options.”
The contraceptive market is valued at $20 billion and is expected to reach $25 billion by 2027, and the cost of STIs to the U.S. healthcare system is $16 billion annually.
“40-45% of all pregnancies globally are unintended,” says Teitelbaum. “There is so much politicization around unwanted pregnancy, which makes it ironic that there isn’t more support for contraceptives. This is really an equity issue for women. Women are using methods that they are unsatisfied with because that’s all they have. Or they opt not to use it.”