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Contact: Sue-Lane Wood, 206.285.3500, media@path.org

Cervical cancer screening test development advances to next stage

Seattle, WA, February 12, 2008—PATH today announced that it has received a $7.2 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to further its efforts toward enhancing cervical cancer screening and prevention. The grant will support the Screening Technologies to Advance Rapid Testing for Cervical Cancer Prevention—Utility and Program Planning (START-UP) Project. START-UP is the second phase of the START Project, which was originally initiated in January 2003 to develop low-cost, easy-to-use, and culturally acceptable screening tests for cervical cancer. The START-UP Project will apply new screening technology and treatment strategies towards creating sustainable programs for low-resource countries.  

About the START-UP Project

A new screening method, originally developed through the PATH START Project, will be incorporated into demonstration projects. This method —a molecular test that detects cancer-causing types of human papillomavirus (HPV)—is a new version of QIAGEN’s (HPV) test that uses the company’s “FastHPV” technology. HPV testing has been found in clinical trials around the world to be more sensitive than both cytology (Pap smear) and visual inspection with acetic acid, but until now has not been feasible or affordable in many areas of the world. The new test—on track to be submitted for its first regulatory approvals in China and India in 2008 and 2009, respectively—is specially designed to allow women in areas with scarce healthcare resources to benefit from the advanced technology of an HPV screening test. It can be conducted by a laboratory technician in lower levels of the healthcare system, such as district and county hospitals. It can be run on easily portable equipment and will run on rechargeable batteries. It is also designed to allow for screening and treatment of women within a single visit, a prerequisite for expanding access to screening in remote areas where women may have difficulty reaching such services.

Another focus of the project is to further clinical study work with cervical cancer biomarkers. These studies will determine whether such biomarkers are useful as screening tools and as means to predict a woman’s risk of developing cervical cancer.

Participating countries include India, Nicaragua, and Uganda. By comparing various screening and treatment approaches, PATH hopes to provide decision-makers with the information about technology and services necessary to use in planning for the sustainable adoption of screening and treatment programs on a wider scale. This information will be valuable for decisions about cervical cancer prevention, including HPV vaccination, screening, and treatment.

About cervical cancer

HPV is the primary cause of cervical cancer, which affects nearly 500,000 women around the world every year and kills more than 250,000—of which 80 percent live in developing countries. After breast cancer, cervical cancer is the second-most-common malignancy found in women. Compared with other cancers, cervical cancer kills women at a younger age—when they are at the peak of their social and economic potential. This is particularly the case for women in developing countries.

Cervical cancer is highly preventable if organized cytology programs to screen for precancerous lesions are created. Unfortunately, cytology-based programs rely on a level of infrastructure unattainable in most of the developing world, and few women in these countries have access to effective screening programs or treatment for precancerous lesions. 

About HPV and cervical cancer

Cervical cancer is caused by “high-risk” types of the HPV, which are sexually transmitted. It is estimated that up to 80 percent of women will get an HPV infection at some point in their lives. However, in most cases, the infection goes away or is suppressed by the body without causing health problems. Only an infection that persists can cause abnormal cells that may develop into cervical cancer if not detected and treated early.

About PATH

PATH is an international, nonprofit organization that creates sustainable, culturally relevant solutions, enabling communities worldwide to break longstanding cycles of poor health. By collaborating with diverse public- and private-sector partners, PATH helps provide appropriate health technologies and vital strategies that change the way people think and act. PATH’s work improves global health and well-being.

Headquartered in Seattle, Washington, USA, PATH has 29 offices in 19 countries. PATH currently works in more than 65 countries in the areas of health technologies, maternal and child health, reproductive health, vaccines and immunization, and emerging and epidemic diseases.