Dr. Jessica Grossman’s work has made it possible for almost 80,000 low-income women to have a better chance at controlling their lives and escaping poverty. As CEO of the nonprofit pharmaceutical company, Medicines360, Grossman and her colleagues are helping these women remain in school, hold jobs, or both.

They’re doing this by making long-acting birth control available to low-income women. “As a nonprofit pharmaceutical company,” she explains, “our mission is to provide our product regardless of ability to pay, regardless of location, and regardless of whether an individual is insured or not.”

The Medicines360 business model is unique. It’s both a pharmaceutical company and a nonprofit. “When Medicines360 makes a profit,” Grossman points out, “the money doesn’t go to shareholders. Rather, the profits are immediately used to subsidize our product costs for women who can’t afford it.”

When providing birth control, Medicines360 is focusing on Long Acting Reversible Contraception (LARC’s) because they’re effective, long-acting, reversible, safe, and – something that’s particularly relevant – they don’t require user action. Not requiring user action is important because, according to the Guttmacher Institute, two-thirds of women in the United States are at risk for unintended pregnancy.

Why? Incorrect or inconsistent use of contraception.

Hormonal intrauterine devices (IUDs) may be the most practical and effective contraception that we know of, but in the past, their cost put them out of reach of low-income women. Before Medicines360 became involved, the available long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) cost roughly $1,000 each.

The high price tag for hormonal IUDs had another pernicious drawback in addition to being unaffordable. The clinics serving low-income women couldn’t afford to stock them. Too often when a woman would come in seeking birth control, the hormonal IUD wasn’t in stock.

To get it, she’d need to make a return visit, but all too often one of two unfortunate things would happen. The woman would never return for a variety of reasons, such as transportation or childcare being too expensive, or difficulty in taking time off from work. Or if she did come back, she was already pregnant.

This situation is changing. “Right now,” says Grossman, “we can offer products at a deep discount to competitive products. That means clinics are in a far better position to have our products on hand.”

The economic model that enables Medicines360 to make its product available is a two-tier pricing system. The products are available at a higher price to private practice physicians where insurance is paying for contraception. The profits from those sales enable Medicines360 to subsidize the deeply discounted prices for the products when they are provided to public health clinics. Still, what about safety? Is there a trade-off?

Fortunately, no. Many women are concerned about the side effects from hormonal contraception, but the amounts of hormones used to ensure contraception with the IUD are radically lower than the amounts used in oral contraception. Women using “the pill” have relatively large amounts of hormones circulating in the blood with the potential of impacting many of the body’s tissues. “The hormonal IUD releases hormones and their impact is mostly localized to the uterus,” says Grossman.

Although making safe, effective and affordable contraception available to low-income women is of prime importance to Medicines360, the organization’s efforts aren’t limited to birth control. “We research the health needs of women and identify gaps and barriers in healthcare access. We develop women’s health products and form partnerships to bring these products to market,” says Grossman.

Addressing gaps and barriers for meeting the health needs of women on a global scale is not something that everyone would take on. How did Grossman come to her present position as Medicines360’s CEO?

Back in 1999, when she was an OBGYN resident at Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia, she kept experiencing a nagging desire to have a greater impact on patients. It was the equivalent of wanting to go from retail to wholesale.

In a surprising leap of faith, Grossman decided to move to Silicon Valley. At the time, she didn’t know even one person there. “I followed my heart,” she remembers. “I knew that there was something out there.”

The move chagrined her parents. After all, they had paid for medical school and to them it seemed as if she was leaving a safe, established career for a giant leap into the unknown.

It may have been a leap into the blue, but her instincts were right. In short order, she obtained jobs involving medical devices, robotics, clinical studies, and eventually started her own company with venture capital backing. By 2008, she had developed enough expertise to be a consultant to medical device companies and entrepreneurs in the areas of company formation, fundraising, clinical development strategy, regulatory affairs, marketing, and business development.

It was perfect preparation for heading Medicines360. In July of 2015 she was appointed Chief Executive Officer.

What about the future?

“We are looking at other products to fill an unmet need that a nonprofit pharmaceutical company is uniquely positioned to help,” she says. Medicines360 is fortunate to have a leader with experience, expertise, a large dose of courage, and the drive to make that vision a reality.