Opt In

Opt In:  A Personal Fertility Control Vaccine

Worldwide, the unmet need for contraception is dramatic and widespread, with more than 200 million women who do not want to become pregnant, but are not using modern contraception. The need is especially high in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, but is prevalent throughout the rest of the less-developed and also in the developed world. As a consequence of these unintended pregnancies, many of these women suffer high maternal mortality in childbirth, high infant mortality, increased poverty, and lost opportunity. Women clearly prefer long-acting but quickly reversible, highly effective, and easily available contraceptive methods. Injectables are the most preferred form of contraception in the developing world, where the unmet need is the highest. But the availability of current injectables is hampered by a need for expensive end-to-end refrigeration (“a cold-chain”), and their use is complicated by the relatively lengthy period they remain in the body exerting a non-reversible contraceptive effect.

There is now an unprecedented opportunity to address this worldwide unmet need with safe, highly effective, easily available and quickly reversible immunocontraception, made possible by advances in immunology and reproductive biology. The goal of our project is to develop a contraceptive vaccine, “Opt In”, that will safely block fertilization, but will do so in a manner that will allow immediate reversal of the vaccine effect with a topical neutralizer. Opt In will be inexpensive by design, and owing in part to lack of a requirement for a cold-chain, will be easily accessible, even in areas without electricity or refrigeration. By providing access to simple, safe, reliable, and flexible contraception, Opt In promises to immeasurably improve the lives of women and children, and the quality of life within whole societies.

In the initial phase of this project we will establish proof-of-concept for Opt In through the design and construction of candidate vaccines, and the demonstration that they can elicit an immune response capable of effectively blocking in vitro fertilization in mice. The policy and social science dimensions of Opt In adoption will be studied hand-in-hand with the biomedical research, with a focus on developing user stories around contraception attitudes, preferences, prevalence of use, and unmet needs in the U.S. and globally, that can inform the development of this contraceptive vaccine. In the process, the project will assemble an interdisciplinary team of investigators at UM, networked across the U.S. and worldwide, for advancing the project toward real-world application.

Project Team:

Kemp Cease, Medical School, VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System
Jon Oscherwitz, Medical School
Gary Smith, Medical School
Yang Zhang, Medical School
Yasamin Kusunoki, Institute for Social Research
Jennifer Barber, College of Literature, Science and the Arts and the Institute for Social Research