Innovation Spotlight: HydroGlyde Coatings
This is the tenth article for the Innovation Spotlight series for the DCD Blog, where we interview some of the newest and most creative companies popping up in the Boston area. If you would like to be featured in our series, please email us at email@example.com.
Company: HydroGlyde Coatings
Interviewee: Stacy Chin, PhD, Co-Founder and CEO
Editor’s Note: This interview is with a company focused on reproductive and sexual health. While there is no explicit content, some readers may consider this NSFW.
Latex condoms as we know them were invented back in the 1920s, and since then, they haven’t really changed all that much. The debate as to whether or not they were morally conscionable, and just how publically acceptable they are, has raged back and forth, but in the end, a condom is still a condom.
Today, condoms are one of the most widely, yet improperly used medical devices (and yes, they are categorized as a medical device). They are 98% effective at preventing pregnancy if they are used perfectly every time, but since that’s something of an unrealistic standard, the actual prevention rating is closer 85%. Still, not bad, and their protection rate against STDs is nearly 100%, so which more than makes up for it in many people’s eyes.
Of course, the lack of innovation over the years doesn’t mean condoms have reached the pinnacle of perfection. Condoms are still particularly prone to ripping, tearing, and slipping off during use, and that little dab of lube they come with? It doesn’t last very long, leading to all the above issues.
Enter HydroGlyde Coatings. When the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation tasked people to create a better condom, HydroGlyde Coatings decided to tackle the issue not by just rebuilding the design, but by improving the lubrication of today’s condoms.
When it comes preventing rips and tears, many condom companies are focused on making the condom stronger. For example, you may have of LELO’s hex condoms, whose honeycomb patterned condoms’ claim to fame is that if one cell is damaged, the entire structural integrity of the condom is not compromised. However, HydroGlyde Coating’s CEO and co-founder, Stacy Chin, PhD, says that this is not enough.
“From the user’s perspective, if you have a little hole or breakage, how do you know that?”
While it’s true that a small breakage is much better than complete and total condom failure, a breakage is still a breakage. Even if there is nothing more than a tiny hole in the condom, backup strategies, like Plan B, still need to be deployed. If you can’t tell there’s been a break because it doesn’t show, you may not be able to act in time.
One of the main causes of breakage in condoms comes from the frictional forces that occur during intercourse. As I said before, the lubrication that comes with condoms is often not enough to last for the entire duration of use. In places like America, this problem can be fixed by applying more lubricant. However, there are still many places in the world that don’t have ready access to the wide range of silicone and water-based lubricants that we do. HydroGlyde Coatings is working to design a hydrophilic, lubricating coating that activates with water (a common solvent) so that a condom will stay slippery all throughout use.
So what makes a coating so much better than standard lubricant? Right now, all condoms on the market come with a small amount of silicone lubricant that’s squirted onto the condom in the manufacturing process. During the course of intercourse, the squirt of fluid rubs off or dries up. A coating will remain on the surface of the condom instead, meaning you will never run out of lubricity. This will minimize the need to purchase additional lubricants and apply them periodically.
However, Dr. Chin says that one of the biggest challenges in working with rubber is that it can stretch up to seven times its original size. Getting a substrate on the latex without it cracking or losing its flexibility is no small feat. HydroGlyde Coatings has been able to make a coating that mimics natural rubber. Once they make it through the bureaucracy of getting FDA approval for production, Dr. Chin says they can see the coating’s use expanding to other rubber and latex applications such as catheters and gloves.
But making a better condom isn’t the only thing HydroGlyde Coatings is working on. Their mission is to promote correct and consistent condom usage to minimize STD rates and unintended pregnancies. One of the main problems condoms face is that people don’t use them correctly or consistently. Dr. Chin hopes that between education, spreading awareness, and HydroGlyde Coating’s innovation, they can reduce the spread of STDs globally.
To help achieve that goal, they’re going to make sure their condoms are priced competitively. They also are hoping to partner with government agencies and non-profits in order to make their condoms accessible in third-world countries, where the need for consistent condom usage is at its greatest.
For now, Dr. Chin and her team are focusing on the science. With their recent recognition as a Startup Worcester Winner and pieces in the Telegram & Gazette, it looks like they’re well on their way to creating safer experiences for people all over the world.