Eliminating the need for painful removal of implants with biodegradable option

US firm to manufacture its biodegradable contraceptive implants in Galway

Hera Health Solutions CEO Idicula Mathew: ‘Eucontra’s unique biodegradable make-up will eliminate the costly and often painful removal procedure required with current contraceptive arm implants.’

Implants are one way those taking medication over a long period of time can receive their treatment. However, removing an implant can be complicated and some patients are left with heavy bruising and scarring as a result. To address this problem life science start-up, Hera Health Solutions, has developed a biodegradable drug delivery implant that does not need to be removed at the end of the treatment. It is simply reabsorbed by the body.

Contraceptives, hormone therapies and treatment for breast cancer are just some examples of extended regimes that could ultimately benefit from Hera's breakthrough. "Our technology has been developed by a team of biomedical engineers, material scientists and medical device experts and is capable of delivering long-acting medications while degrading inside the body," says company founder and CEO Idicula Mathew.

"Our platform utilises materials that are already FDA (the US body for food and drugs regulation) approved and proven safe and effective in a multitude of other biodegradable medical devices. For example, biodegradable sutures and biodegradable bone screws. We're taking it one step further in terms of understanding how these materials can be implanted and used to deliver a therapeutic to the body for an extended period of time. Our technology is the first of its kind to do this," says Mathew, a biomedical engineer and researcher at the Georgia Institute of Technology in the US whose connection to Ireland came through his participation in the NUIG-based BioExcel medical device accelerator programme.

Hera's chief scientific officer, Dr Sirsendu Bhowmick, as well as the company's R&D and testing facilities are all located in Galway and the company will also manufacture here in due course.


Painful removal procedure

Hera’s launch product is Eucontra, a long-acting contraceptive implant. “Eucontra’s unique biodegradable make-up will eliminate the costly and often painful removal procedure required with current contraceptive arm implants while providing users with a safe and effective solution to their long-term contraceptive needs,” Mathew says.

“During BioExcel we interviewed over 500 direct users of long-acting therapeutics, medical device experts, physicians and obstetricians and gynaecologists in Ireland and the US and quickly identified long-acting contraception as a highly dissatisfied market segment suited to our technology.”

Eucontra will be launched in 2024 following FDA and World Health Organisation approval and the initial target markets are the US and Europe followed by developing countries through non-profit partnerships. "We see Ireland as a really good hub from which to make those partnerships happen," Mathew says.

To date, about $1.3 million (€1.1 million) has been raised to fund Hera's development including support from Enterprise Ireland, the Western Development Commission and Kernel Capital. The company, which is about to embark on a Series A funding round of $10 million (€8.9 million), will be expanding its team in Ireland this year in areas such R&D and regulation as it pushes ahead with the commercialisation of its technology.

“There is a huge market for drug delivery innovation in a global marketplace that is ripe for disruption. For example, there are large areas of the world with limited access to healthcare and implants would be a solution there while in society generally there is a move against pill-taking regimes,” says Mathew who adds that while billions of dollars are invested in the discovery of new therapies every year, nothing like the same amount is spent trying to find better ways of administering them, especially to those on long-term treatments.

“We anticipate having first mover advantage with Eucontra and are already working on other applications for our platform,” Mathew says. “We have kick-started bench and validation trials in the areas of opioid addiction and veterinary health and have entered early pilot discovery programmes with a number of pharmaceutical companies. These programmes will help us look for licensing partnerships and opportunities in other areas such as hormone replacement therapeutics and oncology.”