13 Nov 2013

HLL R&D Center wins global recognition for condom innovation

The next generation of male contraceptive could be a super-thin, ultra-sensitive condom made by blending latex with Graphene.
HLL Lifecare Ltd, one of the world’s biggest contraceptive manufacturers, has started working on the next generation condoms at its state-of-the-art Corporate R &D Centre (CRDC), even as accolades came from far and wide, including the Bill and Melinda Foundation, for the new idea. CRDC has been established with an agenda to identify and adapt/develop new technologies, processes and products in the area of reproductive health.
Graphene is a two dimensional material consisting of a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb or chicken wire structure.  It is the thinnest stretchable material known and yet is also one of the strongest.  It conducts electricity as efficiently as copper and overtakes all other materials as a conductor of heat. 
Graphene based polymer nanocomposites are widely explored to replace metals in the manufacture of aircraft, cars, flexible electronics, biomedical applications, etc.   Scientists at HLL want to bring this wonderful material into the intimate life of the people by incorporating “Graphene” into condoms.This will allow to reduce condom thickness from about 0.07 mm currently to less than 0.04 mm, and increase the heat conductivity. It may also be possible to incorporate drugs into the material for reproductive health . Our scientist Dr Lakshminarayanan Regupathy, who worked on this idea, and his team are already into the task,” said HLL chairman and the managing director Dr M Ayyappan.
“Our philosophy is to fuse innovation with social commitment,” said Dr Ayyappan, on the pioneering R&D initiatives being taken up by the company to take the contraceptive revolution further ahead.
“Healthcare becoming more expensive much beyond the reach of the common man. In this context, our philosophy is to make high-quality healthcare products affordable to the commoner. That is where our CRDC excels,” he added.
The world-class CRDC, set up in 2003, has already proved to be a cradle of path-breaking innovations. Its mission is to identify and adapt/develop new technologies, products, and processes in the area of contraceptive and reproductive healthcare drugs, devices and immune biological.
The idea for the next generation condom won the prestigious endorsement from Bill & Melinda Foundation which launched recently a scout for game-changing ideas.  Dr Ragupathy along with team members Dr. A. Kumaran and      Dr. G. Rajmohan won $100,000 in funding for this project.
Dr Ragupathy, who works at HLL’s state-of-the-art Corporate R&D centre believes the improved mechanical and thermal properties of the material will result in condoms that are half as thick as those currently in use and provide greater sexual pleasure.
Dr Ragupathy’s project is among 11 innovative ideas that were chosen by the Foundation from among 800 applications for the Grand Challenges Exploration (GCE) grant for developing the next generation of condoms.  His is the only project from India to win funding in this category; the others are from the UK, the US, South Africa and Australia.
He is the second scientist from HLL to win a grant this year from the foundation which identifies and supports individuals who are taking innovative approaches to some of the world’s toughest and persistent global health and development challenges. Dr Abi Santhosh Aprem, the deputy vice-president of CRDC, has been granted $860,000 for the second phase of his project to develop coated copper T.
Dr Aprem won a grant in 2010 for the first phase in which he demonstrated that a biodegradable and biocompatible polymer coating over the copper core could modulate the release of copper ions from the intra uterine device (IUD). The hypothesis is that since the film gets completely eroded by 3-4 months, a controlled release of copper ions is possible from the IUD as opposed to a burst release seen in the initial months. It would have a substantial impact in reducing side effects like heavy menstrual bleeding and pain. All toxicological evaluations were cleared by the coated copper T device in Phase I.
In Phase II, Dr. Aprem will conduct a pilot clinical study of the coated copper T device to compare it with the conventional copper IUD in offering reduced side effects. The coated copper T will be produced in a pilot scale facility at HLL Lifecare. If successful, it is expected that the acceptability of the copper IUD among women users will be increased as it is an economical, non-hormonal, reversible long term contraceptive for women across the world.
Grand Challenges Explorations is a US$100 million initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  Launched in 2008, over 800 people in 50 countries have received Grand Challenges Explorations grants.  The grant program is open to anyone from any discipline and from any organization.  The initiative uses an agile, accelerated grant-making process with short two-page online application and no preliminary data required.  Initial grants of US$100,000 are awarded two times a year. Successful projects have the opportunity to receive a follow-on grant of up to US$1 million.