According to World Health Organisation statistics 311,000 women died from cervical cancer in 2018.
That’s a huge number, particularly when we bear it in mind that the contraction of cervical cancer is preventable, thanks to screening measures to test for HPV, the cause of almost all cervical cancers.
It’s so preventable that the WHO has declared that no woman should die from cervical cancer and have put together a draft global strategy to achieve this aim, which was planned to be put to the World Health Assembly in May 2020.
Under the strategy, every country must reach the following global targets by 2030:
Ambitious goals like these mean that billions of women will need access to screening and testing service. This in itself will require a huge amount of collaboration between government and industry, with the private diagnostic sector having a huge role to play in making these aims a reality.
My team and I specialise in the diagnostic space and this is an area of the market that we pay a lot of attention to. My colleague Eleanor wrote an article earlier this year to coincide with HPV awareness week, where she highlighted some of the companies working towards beating cervical cancer.
As we approach the date the WHO had set to present its strategy to the World Health Assembly I wanted to look at where the companies are that are creating HPV tests all over the world. To do this, I used the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) and WHO list of HPV tests for cervical cancer screening.
I’ve broken the companies down continent-by-continent to see where they are in the world. A caveat I should make before we start though – I realise that all of these businesses are global, wildly different sizes and distribute their products internationally. It just stood out to me that, rather than any one hub or hotspot (California aside) the spread of these innovative businesses was so far-reaching.
Caveats over, let’s jump in.
Europe led the race for the number of companies on the approved list, but I was taken aback by how evenly spread across the continent they were. In addition, there were no UK-based businesses on there, demonstrating that the UK diagnostics sector has some ground to make up on our continental counterparts.
Germany and Spain had the most entrants, with QIAGEN, Mikrogen Diagnostik and Diamex representing the German contingent and Master Diagnostica, Genomica and Molgentix the Iberian representatives.
The only other European company represented more than once by Greiner Bio-One and Valdospan was Austria. After that Belgium, France and Norway had a company each, with Innogenetics, BioMérieux and Norchip respectively.
Last but certainly no means least in the European contingent are the little known, $58B turnover giant Roche whose Amplicor, Linear Array and Cobas ranges all made the list.
The companies here span the breadth of the country, starting on the east coast with Massachusetts-based Hologic, whose Cervista and APTIMA tests are featured. Just up the coast, New Jersey based Becton Dickinson are also included, whose Onclarity assay received FDA approval in 2018.
Moving to the mid-west, we hit Abbott Molecular in Chicago whose RealTime HPV Risk Test has been used worldwide since 2009 to help detect the early signs of cervical cancer in women over 30.
From there it’s to California to visit Cepheid and Arbor Vita. Both have one test on the list, Danaher-owned Cepheid with the Xpert HPV test and the Onco E6 Cervical test from Fremont based Arbor Vita.
We end our mini world tour of HPV-screening diagnostic test manufacturers with a jump across the Pacific to DiaCarta. Technically, they are headquartered in the USA along with Cepheid and Arbor Vita in California, but their significant operational presence in China meant that I included them here.
Staying in China, Hybribio also make the list with their multiplex real-time PCR test which can detect 13 types of HPV.
Seegene and Diagcor are headquartered in South Korea and Hong Kong respectively, with the only company from the Indian sub-continent being Strand Life Sciences who currently have a urine-based test kit under development in collaboration with California-based Trovagene’s labs.
We finish in Australia for the only Antipodean entrant to the PA/WHO list of tests, Genera Biosystems. The PapType test utilises their flagship proprietary AmpaSand bead technology to detect 16 strains of HPV.
That’s 24 different companies distributed all over the world, united in the aim to better detect and hopefully eradicate, cervical cancer. If the WHO aim of eliminating the disease by 2030 is to become reality then all of these businesses will have a significant part to play.
As we see life science sectors begin to take shape in developing nations, we’re sure to see other entrants gain access to this list too, from Africa and South America (although the final continent may be a few years off yet).
With such a comprehensive and diversified list of tests available to detect high risk HPV and the early signs of cervical cancer, it’s a fight we’re in a great position to win.
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In this episode, Jack speaks with two Co-Founders at Centivax about life as successful entrepreneurs, the journey to acquisition, challenges and learnings - and using them to become an industry-defining author. Listen now.