Global health organization FHI 360 will be able to more than double its research and development work on contraceptives for the developing world thanks to a new Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awarding the Durham non-profit about $22.5 million.

FHI has done a wide range of work implementing health, nutrition and education initiatives among others in the developing world. But Laneta Dorflinger, a scientist who has worked at FHI for 22 years, said that FHI’s founding principle in 1971 was to work in family planning and contraception. She said the new funding will allow FHI to expand into new areas that previously had not been funded.

“We’re really going back to our beginnings with this grant,” she said.

Compared to the developed world, using contraception in the developing world poses more challenges. According to FHI, more than 200 million women in developing countries want to avoid or delay pregnancy but are not using a contraceptive.Women in the developed world can easily turn to short-acting, user-dependent options such as birth control pills. FHI’s research involves longer-term options.

For example, FHI is researching contraceptive implants that are placed on under the skin of the arm. One such implant is available in the United States and it lasts from three to five years. But in the developing world, it’s not always easy to get these implants removed, Dorflinger said. FHI is researching a biodegradable implant that would last for a defined period and and would not need removal.

Another research project involves developing a longer lasting injectable contraceptive. Currently available products last three months but Dorflinger said it’s not always easy for a women to come back another shot. FHI is researching ways to develop a contraceptive that lasts for six months or longer.

Some of the R&D work involves taking technologies that have been successfully applied in other products and adapting them for contraceptives.

It’s not the first time that the Gates Foundation has supported FHI’s research into contraceptives. FHI has also received grant funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development. But Dorflinger said that the new Gates Foundation grant is FHI’s largest ever for contraceptive research. The new funding means FHI will focus its efforts in what it is calling its Contraceptive Technology Innovation initiative, or CTI. Dorflinger will lead the new CTI department, which will be housed at FHI headquarters.

The CIT initiative will mean new hires to FHI though Dorflinger said it’s too early to offer hiring estimates. She said that FHI will pull employees from within FHI to work on the new contraception research but also bring on new people in product development, project management and R&D. She said FHI will be looking in particular for technical people who have experience working in contraception or women’s health.

FHI’s contraception research will ultimately head into clinical trials and ideally, approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as well as other international regulatory bodies. Dorflinger said that while bringing new contraceptive capabilities to the developing world is FHI’s priority, the technologies could also find a market in the United States. FHI will need additional funding to move the research to later stages; Dorflinger said FHI will likely seek pharmaceutical partners who have an interest in commercializing the technologies in both the developing and the developed world.

Partnership discussions are years away. In the next year, FHI will work with the Gates Foundation to finalize the portfolio of products that will be pursued under the new CTI program.