5 startups fighting cervical cancer from Israel, India and Austin, TX

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Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer for women around the world and the deadliest for women under age 35. While the American Cancer Society forecasts about 12,990 new cases of invasive cervical cancer will be identified in the United States alone in 2016, of which a third of them, 4,120, will be fatal, the highest instances of cervical cancer are in developing areas of Africa, where most cases according to the World Cancer Research Fund are associated with human papilloma viruses (HPV).

Cancer screenings, treatments, and vaccines have thankfully become a favorite vertical for biotechnology and health startups and the industry is forecast to be worth $22 billion by 2020. Here are just a handful of the companies diving into the all-important and life-saving industry.

1. MobileODT (Israel)

Co-founded by American Israeli Ariel Beery, MobileODT is pushing an app-based screening test that connects your smartphone to a mobile colposcope, a device commonly used by gynecologists to screen for cervical cancer. The idea here is to speed up the screening process and make it more accessible with easier-to-get equipment, which they claim is 10% of the price and size with the same kind of imaging capacity as a common colposcope.

2. Biop Medical (Ramat Gan, Israel)

Announcing a $2.25 million Series A this week, Biop Medical is looking to upgrade the gynecologist’s arsenal with a device that can identify likely areas of the cervix where cancer cells may be thriving and test those areas on the spot to confirm cancerous development. That cuts out two months of waiting times and multiple biopsies, the company claims.

3. Genentech (San Francisco, California)

A biomedical startup-turned-giant, Genentech was once a portfolio company of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. In February 2016, the company looked to get back into the innovation game by launching a $50,000 contest for startups to pioneer new methods of screening specifically for cervical cancer. The winnings will also come with a year of mentoring from the company. Genentech also just completed a $100,000 high-stakes contest to identify at-risk populations for the disease via some 2 million de-identified genetic records through the online data science platform Kaggle.

After announcing the latest competition, a spokesperson said, “For newer startups, this funding will ideally support the development of a prototype or initiate a pilot. For startups that are established, this support could [help] a startup already operating in this area.”

4. AIndra Systems (Bengaluru, India)

Drishti is applying AIndra's tech to multiple industries, including cervical cancer diagnostics (screenshot, AIndra.in)
Drishti is applying AIndra’s tech to multiple industries, including cervical cancer diagnostics (screenshot, AIndra.in)

AIndra upgrades the traditional pap smear test by utilizing computer vision technology to identify markers of cervical tumors better than traditional microscopes. Called Drishti, their system also incorporates the feedback of doctors who review the diagnosis, learning from differences of opinion that experts might have with AIndra’s verdict.

AIndra’s founder and CEO, Adarsh Natarajan, told the Economic Times, “We wanted to address cervical cancer with our expertise in artificial intelligence. Cervical cancer is not an aggressive cancer, it has a long gestation period of at least 10-15 years, yet one woman dies every seven and a half minutes because of cervical cancer in our country.”

“The idea that one can screen for cervical cancer is in itself powerful, what AIndra is doing is game changing innovation,” KC Bhushan of social enterprise incubator Villgro added. “It has the potential to change the scenario in India.”

5. Onko Solutions (Austin, Texas)

Onko highlights the medtech industry in tech-heavy Austin. Similar to Biop Medical, Onko has a device that avoids paps, HPV tests and biopsies to try to deliver faster and more accurate cervical screening results. They boast of incorporating bioimpedant analysis (measuring total body water and by extension body fat) and biophotonic tech (which focuses their device’s view and blocks out competing light sources) in their device.

There are a number of ways to see if you are at risk for cervical cancer, though you should rely on your doctor for an ultimate diagnosis rather than just online articles.

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