There’s a reason cigarette boxes contain a warning, telling smokers that they could die from lung cancer if they habitually puff. In the US, lung cancer kills more people annually than does any other cancer. If that’s still the case in the United States, where lung cancer rates have been dropping for years, imagine the situation in China, with three times the population of the US and a skyrocketing lung cancer rate.
What’s needed is a better and more effective way to detect lung cancer in early stages, say doctors – and an Israeli bio-tech start-up, called BioView, has a technique it says is more reliable and less invasive than biopsies for early-stage cancer sufferers. It’s reliable enough that Kindstar Global, a huge Chinese diagnostic testing firm which has contracts with over 3,300 hospitals in China, has partnered with BioView for an exclusive license to implement BioView’s Lung Cancer FISH test in China, Macau, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The first round of tests has been completed and according to the scientists who carried out the testing, BioView’s system had a better record than traditional biopsies in detecting lung cancer.
The earlier lung cancer is detected, doctors will tell you, the greater the range of treatments are available, and the more effective they are. Getting a handle on lung cancer early on has historically proven difficult and even biopsies — the sampling of live tissue for a pathological evaluation — aren’t always reliable indicators of early-stage lung cancer.
The problem, according to medical experts, is that the symptoms of lung cancer are similar to the symptoms of a sore throat (coughing), a lack of exercise (shortness of breath), or even exercise-related conditions (knee pain). Biopsies are a hassle, requiring the cutting of a sample for analysis – and they are not always effective in detecting early-stage lung cancer.
BioView believes it has found a better way. The company’s diagnosis technology is based on FISH – Fluorescence in situ hybridization, a cell analysis technique that uses fluorescent probes to detect DNA in chromosomes indicative of cancer. Instead of analyzing cut flesh, the BioView test analyzes cells from the patient’s mouth or upper respiratory tract that are placed on a slide and run through a BioView testing machine. The biomarkers attach themselves to parts of cells that are likely to be cancerous, displaying an abnormal fluorescent pattern. Armed with this information, doctors can decide whether further action on diagnosis – like a biopsy – or treatment are necessary, or whether the symptoms being displayed by a patient are a cancer “false alarm.”
China has the highest rate of death from lung cancer in the world, and the test, said Dr. Shiang Huang, Founder and CEO of Kindstar, could be a major contributor to changing that unfortunate fact. “This test has promise to become a valuable diagnostic and prognostic tool for determining the risk of lung cancer for many patients, but particularly for smokers and will help broaden Kindstar’s oncology test menu offering,” he said.
Huang, along with BioView CEO Dr. Alan Schwebel, are even more excited now that the first round of results from BioView’s FISH tests are back. Out of 52 people tested, BioView was able to detect early-stage cancer in 45 of them, for a sensitivity rate of 86.5%. In fact, said Schwebel, BioView’s test discovered cancer in eight people that a biopsy missed – making it more effective than the traditional test doctors usually rely on. In a country where some 700,000 new cases of lung cancer per year are diagnosed, – with fewer than 20% of them are diagnosed in the early stages – Schwebel believes that the test could make a big difference when it is used on a wide basis.
The tests are in their initial stage (they began in early December and will continue for at least six months), but Schwebel is confident that future test results will be similar. “China and the other Countries covered in this agreement, which are among those having the highest incidence of lung cancer in the world, will be the first to have the BioView test available to aid in the early detection of the cancer,” he said. “We are honored to have the opportunity to partner with Global Kindstar which is one of the leading laboratories for esoteric testing in China. This agreement will be used as a model to offer the BioView Lung Cancer test in other Countries worldwide.”