Would you swap the Pill for an algorithm? New fertility app with doc’s approval.

Big excitement and even bigger questions among millennials as fertility app, Natural Cycles. is the first certified contraception software approved as an alternative to condoms and the Pill. It is the first app of its kind to be regulated as an approved medical device, putting it in the same category as condoms and IUDs. Developed by two Swedish physicists, this app currently has 100,000 users who pay £6.99 per month. Last June, the company received £4.5m in funding.

‘I wanted to give my body a break from the pill,’ co-developer Elina (who previously had helped find the Higgs boson particle) told WIRED, ‘but I couldn’t find any good forms of natural birth control, so I wrote an algorithm for myself.’ She describes Natural Cycles as ‘a natural alternative to the pill – with no side effects.’ It measures fertility by using body temperature and advanced statistical methods within the algorithm. Her co-founder – and husband – Raoul Scherwitzl explains most users are 20-35 years old and the App does not target teenagers. He says, ‘Contraception is offered free of charge to the UK citizens and we will start to discuss with the NHS to cover Natural Cycles as well.’

The app was approved by German testing organization Tüv Süd, one of the certification bodies employed by the Department of Health to test the safety of new drugs and medical devices. Natural Cycles conducted two clinical trials, the second analysed the data of over 4,000 women for one year. The results of this real-life study gave the app a 99.5 % efficacy rating – the same as the pill. However, dropout rates were higher than with the pill, partly because of a lack of motivation. ‘The approval by the German inspection organization is welcome. This is a credible source and it is very positive that Natural Cycles has applied for and received an approval,’ says lead author Kristina Gemzell Danielsson, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Swedish medical institute Karolinksa Institutet.

Experts insist the app is to be treated with caution. ‘Natural Cycles is not recommended to those who are very young or very keen to avoid a pregnancy since there are other more effective methods. The efficacy is far below that of intrauterine contraception or implants, but similar to that of the pill when used in real life,’ says bestselling author Kristina Gemzell Danielsson from Swedish medical institute Karolinska Institutet.

The physicists are focusing on new clinical studies and on expanding the team in the UK and internationally. They have hired another particle physicist from CERN to analyse data from the app. ‘It can be very scary, especially when it has to do with your body and your health,’ says Elina Berglund. ‘We know we are darling with women’s lives here and we take that very seriously.’

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April 2017