According to the World Health Organization, there are over 600,000 new cases of head and neck cancer and 300,000 deaths worldwide each year. This a lot of deaths when we consider the fact that head and neck cancers have the potential not only to be easily treatable but also, survivable. The problem we face right now is early detection. I know you’ve heard us say this before, but trust me when I say, it bears repeating. Over and over and over again. Early detection saves lives.
Around 66% of head and neck cancer cases are found as late as stage 3 or 4. At these stages, oral cancer is much harder to successfully treat and the risk of permanent oral, facial and vocal disfiguration is much higher. By performing routine oral cancer screenings, dentists and hygienists have the ability to detect oral cancers in their early stages, when it is easier to treat and the chances of survival and recovery are as much as 90%.
The problem lies in the fact that most dentists and hygienists are not performing these screenings at all. The current standard of care when it comes to pre-screening for oral cancers is practically non-existent in many parts of the world, even in parts of the United States. That’s why Joan’s Foundation raises funds to educate the dental community about the best practices in oral cancer screening and diagnosis and the importance of their ability and diligence in doing so.
Unfortunately, even in dental offices where oral cancer screenings are a routine part of dental care, most dentists only have the training and means to perform a visual screening, as the only other available screening methods require expensive technology. This is not to say that visual examinations from a dental professional are not an important way of protecting people from head and neck cancer. The problem is that oral cancers can start developing long before a lump, sores or other visual symptoms become apparent.
When it comes down to it, what we really need is a fast, accurate and affordable screening method that can be used as a new standard of care for all dental patients. And that’s where this story takes a turn.
Around 4 years ago, after seeing the painful and aggressive oral cancer treatment his mother was enduring, Matthew H.J. Kim began researching early detection technologies being developed. When he found one at the University of Miami he set about negotiating the license and finding a way to finance the project. With the execution of the license (on Mother’s Day of 2011) and an initial investment of $2.3 million, Vigilant Biosciences was born.
Vigilant’s first two products include a point-of-care oral rinse test and a quantitative lab test that can aid in the early detection of risk for oral cancer, both of which have been in development during the last four years and have just recently passed one of the key regulatory hurdles in Europe. Now after a second round of fundraising that has brought in $5.5 million in investments from public, private and angel investors, Vigilant is focused on commercializing their product in Europe and beginning the regulatory process in the United States.
“As hundreds of thousands continue to be diagnosed with oral cancer every year, we are committed to providing an accurate, effective and affordable way to aid in the early detection of risk for the disease. This funding will enable us to address this critical market need that has gone unmet for far too long,” said Kim in an interview with the Miami Herald.
If Vigilant’s OncAlert Oral Cancer Risk Assessment System passes regulatory testing in the States, it could mean a whole new standard for oral cancer screening that could detect cancers well before they show symptoms or metastasize. This is incredible news for the future of oral health and in the fight against oral cancer.
To learn more about Vigilant Biosciences and the important work they are doing, visit their website at www.vigilantbiosciences.com.