A major Chinese company is investing Israel’s Check-Cap, developer of a new technology to allow for non-invasive colon cancer screening that could save millions of lives. The company claims its little pill-like gadget avoids the extremely unpleasant laxative-enema colon “cleaning” process and the uncomfortable colonoscopy, too. The device is still in the testing stage, but if all this pans out, the hope is that many more people will go for a checkup that can catch deadly colon cancer before it’s too late.
Fosun Pharmaceuticals, a division of the biggest company in China, led the round that brought an additional $12 million in financing. The funding is a line of credit that Check-Cap can draw on, and the investors have the option to convert the loans into shares in the company.
The attraction of Check-Cap to Fosun and its other previous investors (GE Healthcare, Pontifax, and others) is the company’s development of an X-ray device that is wrapped in a capsule, swallowed by the patient, and excreted a day or two later. While in the digestive system, the device transmits X-rays, with minimal radiation, to the intestinal wall and back. The information is transmitted to a data recorder and analyzed to construct a 3D image of the colon’s internal surface, enabling the detection of clinically significant polyps.
According to studies conducted by Check-Cap, the system works as well as, or better than, standard screening procedures, such as a colonoscopy. Thanks to its “easier-to-stomach” screening procedure, the company believes, more people will be encouraged to seek colon cancer screening – making it easier for doctors to catch the disease before it spreads, enabling them to save more lives.
Among the killer cancers, colon (colorectal) cancer is one of the worst. For both men and women, it is the third most common cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death, topped only by lung cancer. Colon cancer rates jump for those over 50, and although there is a perception that colon cancer primarily affects males (especially black males), statistics show that there is plenty of it to go around for members of both sexes, and for all races and ethnic groups.
So most over-50s who go to the doctor will be asked to undergo a colon cancer screening. Initially, screening isn’t too taxing — the patient is usually required to submit a stool sample for analysis. The problem comes in stage two of the process — patients whose stool samples indicate that there may be a cancer issue will be asked to undergo further screening, usually requiring a colonoscopy. That examination is also in two stages. First, the colon must be emptied of its contents by strong laxatives and enemas. Then a snake-like instrument called a colonoscope is inserted into the anus. Many patients, realizing that they may end up being probed, avoid colon cancer screening altogether.
A 2011 survey by the Colon Cancer Alliance, found that 70 percent of the people whose doctors had recommended a colonoscopy actually had the procedure done. Sixty percent said they were afraid of it, and 73 percent said the preparation was worse than the procedure itself.
Check-Cap’s screening process solves those problems, the company says. Instead of a multi-stage screening process, Check-Cap’s standard-size pill does all the work, painlessly. It advances through the body, capturing and continuously transmitting data about the colon’s internal surface before being excreted naturally within two to three days.
Patients are able to continue their normal daily routines – including eating (usually, colonoscopy candidates need to fast before the procedure) throughout the process. In addition, there is no need for “preparation.” The X-rays are ultra-low dose (with radiation exposure approximating that of a single chest X-ray) and allow for 3-dimensional imaging of the lining of the colon even when the capsule is surrounded by what Check-Cap calls “intestinal content.” Upon test completion, gastroenterologists or radiologists can analyze the data from any computer in less than 10 minutes.
With the Fosun funding, said Guy Neev, Check-Cap CEO, the company will be able to conduct more studies in preparation for approval by European health authorities, and later on, the FDA. “We would like to thank Fosun Pharma and all the investors who participated in this important round of financing,” said Neev. “This funding will help support our efforts to complete the clinical development of our system, continue our European clinical studies and file for the CE Mark. It will also help bring us closer to our goal of offering an effective, patient-friendly solution to help improve patient compliance with colorectal cancer screening guidelines in the US and abroad.”