On Thursday a federal advisory panel unanimously voted that federal drug regulators should approve a medication to help prevent pregnancy if taken as late as five days after unprotected sex. Government labs have created a pill called Ella that is supposed to be more effective then Plan B, a morning after pill that is now available over the counter. Because Plan B loses efficacy after intercourse and at the most can be taken three days after a sexual encounter.
Ella in contrast with Plan B works just as well on the fifth day as it does on the first day. Ella works by blocking the effect of progesterone, the female hormone that spurs ovulation. Ella is chemically related to RU-486 which is known as the abortion pill. There is still some mystery as to exactly how Ella works. Because of the mystery concerning how the pill works, there was a fierce debate outside the committee concerning whether Ella should be considered an abortion drug or not. The debate led to several uniformed police being stationed around the meeting room in Gaithersburg, Maryland.
Most of the time the FDA follows the advice of advisory panels, but not all the time. The dispute over Ella is based on whether the drug works by delaying ovulation as the manufacturer claims or by preventing a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus, which is what anti abortion advocates claim.
A pharmacologist with the FDA Dr. Jeffrey Bray says that Ella may do both of these things and a committee member and professor of biostatics Dr. Scott Emerson states that any drug that is able to prevent pregnancy 5 days after sexual activity has to do more than just delay ovulation.
Extensive animal studies have shown that Ells has little effect on established pregnancies which indicates that it acts in a different manner than RU-486 even though it has a similar chemical composition.
Ella is manufactured by HRA Pharma, if approved; the medicine would be available only by prescription. During the meeting of the committee there were several salvos traded between anti-abortion and abortion rights advocates. Although Ella is more effective and can be taken later than Plan B the new drug, if approved would probably do little to solve the epidemic of unplanned pregnancies in the U.S.