The Today Sponge contraceptive is back on the market, eight years after it disappeared from U.S. drugstore shelves in a turn depicted in a "Seinfeld" episode.
Allendale Pharmaceuticals, a startup business here, bought rights to the Today Sponge from the drug company that discontinued it. Allendale began selling it this month through two Canadian Internet sites.
More sponges, priced at the U.S. equivalent of about $2.90 each, will arrive at 4,000 pharmacies, Wal-Marts and other stores across Canada, according to Allendale. The manufacturer is hoping for Food and Drug Administration approval to sell them in U.S. stores within a year.
"I think there's just thousands of people out there waiting for it," said Marisa Dawson, a nurse in Ocoee, Fla., who is awaiting a dozen sponges for which she paid last spring.
About 250 million polyurethane Today Sponges were sold from 1983 to 1995.
Originally made by a pharmaceutical giant now called Wyeth, the sponge was taken off the market in 1995 after bacterial contamination in the water used to make the sponge was found at the company's Hammonton factory. The FDA said the sponge's safety and effectiveness were never questioned. Wyeth stopped selling it rather than pay to upgrade its plant.
In a 1995 "Seinfeld" episode, Elaine runs around New York seeking the sponge and, after finding a supply, stretches it by deciding whether a boyfriend is "spongeworthy."
Since the disappearance of the Today Sponge, two foreign brands have been available over the Internet, but not in U.S. stores. Protectaid, made in Canada, lacks a withdrawal cord, and some women find it difficult to remove; Pharmatex, made in France, costs twice as much as the Today Sponge.
In 1998, Gene Detroyer, Allendale's president and chief executive, and a few partners assembled money to buy the patents and the manufacturing equipment. Detroyer hoped to get the product back on shelves in a few years. Instead, tougher new FDA standards for manufacturing and record-keeping forced repeated delays and a switch from a contract manufacturer in Mainland, Pa., to one in Norwich, N.Y.
The first sponges will go mostly to 700 people who ordered -- 24 each, on average -- as long ago as January 2001, and to some of the 8,000 subscribers to the Spongeworthy Watch, an e-mail newsletter from www.birthcontrol.com, said Barbara Bell, co-owner of the Internet women's products seller. She said subscribers ordered about 1,000 boxes of a dozen sponges each in the past week.
The sponge helps prevent pregnancy in two ways: It covers the cervix, and it contains a spermicide.