While the hormonal birth control pill has dominated the industry for decades, many women are now opting for intrauterine devices, or IUDs.
Pharmaceutical companies introduced the first IUDs in the 1960s, but health issues with early iterations stymied adoption. During the past few years, falling prices for consumers and improved publicity have spurred IUD sales, and the shift could revolutionize the contraceptives industry.
What is an IUD?
An IUD is a T-shaped piece of plastic that is implanted into a woman’s uterus. When the woman’s body senses the foreign object, it sends white blood cells to destroy the attacker, according to a Wired article. While these cells can’t dislodge the plastic implant, they can destroy any foreign cells that enter the uterus, such as sperm. That stops sperm from implanting on the uterine wall and therefore prevents pregnancy.
Most IUDs take this process a step further and incorporate different elements that increase their ability to stop pregnancies. Some IUDs use hormones such as levonorgestrel, a progestin hormone found in many birth control pills. These hormones thicken the mucous on the cervix and thin out the uterine walls, preventing sperm from entering the uterus and inhibiting sperm from reaching or fertilizing any eggs. Hormonal IUDs can last three to five years, depending on the brand.
Then there are copper IUDs, which are the more common of the two. They last up to 10 years and complement the natural pregnancy prevention provided by a woman’s white blood cells. The presence of copper, which is toxic to sperm, prompts a woman’s body to produce a fluid that contains white blood cells, copper ions, enzymes and prostaglandins, encouraging more white blood cells to enter the uterus.
Effective, safe and hassle free
IUDs are astonishingly effective, with only about two out of every 1,000 women using hormonal IUDs becoming pregnant in the first year of use, according to WebMD. For copper IUDs, only about six out of every 1,000 women become pregnant in the first year of use, making IUDs one of the most consistent forms of contraception available. That is partially related to the devices’ simplicity. Unlike other forms of contraception that must be taken daily or used every time an individual has intercourse, IUDs require almost no maintenance and remain effective for years after implantation.
It is simple to remove an IUD, and doing so has no ill effects on a woman’s ability to have children. Many women who use an IUD have it removed, carry a pregnancy to term, then have an IUD reimplanted. That makes IUDs an ideal option for women who want to maintain flexibility in their family planning.
Obstacles to adoption
As mentioned, IUDs have been on the market for years and their efficacy is well documented; however, women have generally opted for other methods of birth control. That grew from stigma created by one of the first IUDs released in the early 1970s.
Called the Dalkon Shield, the device promised all the benefits associated with modern IUDs. Unfortunately, the Shield was difficult to implant and injured over 200,000 women, according to The New York Times. The medical issues caused by the product left many women infertile and the negative press that surrounded the device tainted public perception of IUDs for decades.
Public opinion shifts
Today, IUD adoption is growing rapidly, and public perception of the devices has changed entirely. There is a wealth of modern research that indicates IUDs are completely safe for most women, and current models are wholly unrelated to their widely disliked forebears.
At the same time, the price of IUDs has decreased substantially for many North Americans. While Canadian women have been able to purchase an IUD for less than $400 for some time, according to Canadian Living, women in the US could pay as much as $1,000 for the same product. Now, the Affordable Care Act ensures that health insurance providers will cover a woman’s contraceptive needs, so IUDs are an affordable option for more people.
The major players
Widespread IUD use is good news for the industry’s major players: privately held Bayer Healthcare Pharmaceuticals and publicly traded Teva Pharmaceutical Industries (NYSE:TEVA). While there is talk of a generic IUD that could hit the market in the next few years, these companies produce the currently available IUDs. Bayer’s Mirena and Skyla are hormone-based while Teva’s Paragard utilizes copper.
Investors should consider the potential impact that IUD growth will have on the contraceptives market and the pharmaceutical industry as a whole.