Every year over 14 million are diagnosed with cancer worldwide. Although significant improvements have been made over the last 15 years, cancer diagnosed at an early stage is more likely to be treated successfully. Metastasis makes treatments more difficult, sadly lowering survival rates. For example, around 70% of lung cancer patients will survive for at least a year if diagnosed at the earliest stage compared to around 14 percent for people diagnosed with the most advanced stage.
The network of factors influencing early diagnosis is complex, ranging from low awareness of symptoms, individuals response, health professional interaction and delays in onward referral. A major part of providing an accurate early diagnosis of cancer is developing new and better diagnostic tools.
The San Antonio-based startup bioAffinity Technologies is a development-stage company advancing early-stage diagnostics for a wide range of cancers. Their proprietary technology, trademarked under the name CyPath, is based on a porphyrin compound that binds specifically to cancer cells and causes them to fluoresce red under specific frequencies of light.
Their first product is an inexpensive and non-invasive test for early detection of lung cancer. The process begins by obtaining a sputum sample using a simple assist device. The sample is prepared for analysis and labeled with CyPath, making cancer cells in the sample fluoresce a deep red at specific wavelengths. The emitted light is quantified using computers, making it possible to accurately diagnose cancer.
While screening for lung cancer using low-dose computed tomography (CT) has shown to increase survival, it has a large false-positive rate that can lead to unnecessary invasive procedures, making it far from optimal. Bioaffinity plan to initially target these high-risk people and aim to be a follow-up test after someone receives a positive CT scan, possibly preventing unnecessary biopsies. However, since the innovative test is non-invasive and could cost between $150 to $300, it also has a broader application than a follow-up test. The relatively cheap nature of the test not only make it perfect in countries with top healthcare, but also in countries that are not able to have low-dose CT or other expensive technologies. The simplicity of it also reduce the extensive need for trained personnel and maintenance costs that is in fact some of the major barriers of access to health technology in developing countries.
The company published results from a study in July 2015 showing that the test successfully classified which patients had cancer and which ones did not. However, it is still a long way from commercialization, and they are working together with the University of Texas Health Science Center to improve the test and to understand why the cancerous cells take in the porphyrin. Bioaffinity Technologies is currently looking to raise $10 million to continue the commercialization process of their lead product, but they also plan to adapt their platform technology to develop other cost-effective and accurate assays for a variety of cancers.