A Summer in Contraceptive Development

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The authors of this blog are Sarah McMahon and David Henderson, seniors at Duke University who spent the past 11 weeks as summer interns in the Contraceptive Technology Innovation Department at FHI 360. 

FHI 360’s Contraceptive Technology Innovation (CTI) department is filled with experienced professionals. Many of them have been working in family planning and contraceptive development for years, or even decades. Fortunately for us, however, the CTI department also takes on a few undergraduate interns and graduate student fellows every year.

This summer, we got to work in CTI as undergraduate interns. We knew we were going to be working in contraceptive research and development (R&D), but there were far fewer lab coats and chemists than we expected. Instead, we quickly learned how much administrative and financial support goes into bringing new drugs to market. It takes a broad mix of professionals to make drug development possible—project management staff, monitoring and evaluation specialists, qualitative researchers, and yes, a good number of brilliant chemists.

Our main projects this summer were of the behind the scenes variety. We worked hard on monitoring and evaluation reports for funders, and on a literature review on the linkages between menstrual and reproductive health. Neither of these projects directly pushed a novel contraceptive product forward, but they were both helpful to the department and in a small way, to the field of contraceptive R&D as a whole.

Throughout the summer, we also had the chance to work on this CTI Exchange blog and the resource library, which serve the greater contraceptive R&D community. Doing so gave us an amazing bird’s eye view of the field. Through updating entries in Calliope, the Contraceptive Pipeline Database, we were also able to learn about the many products in development and where there are opportunities for further innovation.

There are almost as many organizations working in the field as there are products under development. It was fascinating to be in the middle of it all. Huge pharmaceutical companies, small startups, non-profits, aid agencies, and private foundations working together towards a common goal is something unique to contraceptive R&D.

FHI 360, through its Contraceptive Technology Innovation department, is among many organizations working to not only increase access to contraception, but to provide women with a broadened method choice and the option of a product that truly works for them. Not only is the work of contraceptive R&D a necessity today, but the leaders of the field are deeply dedicated to building the capacity of the next generation of experts, who will someday move the field forward. From the short time we’ve spent here, we have experienced the passion behind the work and the enthusiasm to share knowledge and expertise most everyone in contraceptive R&D shares. We have thoroughly enjoyed our experience and are inspired by the work being done in contraceptive R&D.

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