Johns Hopkins startup could help detect ovarian cancer

PapGene is headquartered in Johns Hopkins’ FastForward incubator in the Stieff Silver Building.

Baltimore Business Journal

By the time ovarian cancer is diagnosed in most women, it’s difficult — if not impossible — to eliminate. This cancer has few early symptoms and there is no test to detect it in its earliest stages. Of the 70,000 women diagnosed with cervical cancer every year, about a third die.

Johns Hopkins startup PapGene thinks it has an answer.

The startup is developing a way to detect ovarian and endometiral cancers through a test similar to a pap smear, the common minimally invasive test gynecologists routinely perform to test for cervical cancer.

“The pap test is the poster child of this approach. Cervical cancers have been dramatically reduced since the introduction of the pap test,” said CEO Howie Kaufman. PapGene has been working in “stealth mode” for the past couple of years, but now is ready begin moving to the commercial market. The company recently raised $3 million and is moving in to a 1,000-square-foot lab at Hopkins’ FastForward incubator in the Stieff Silver building near the university’s Homewood campus.

The company’s five scientific founders last year brought on Kaufman as CEO and Isaac Kine as its chief scientific officer.

The company is based on research by five Hopkins researchers, including well-known Kimmel Cancer Center researchers Kenneth Kinzler and Bert Vogelstein. The group in 2013 published a paper that showed they could detect ovarian and endometrial cancers from cells and fluid collected through a pap test.

Kaufman and Kinde are charged with figuring out the path from lab to market for the scientists’ discovery.

Kaufman says it’s too soon to say when — or in what form — PapGene’s diagnosis tool might be available. The company is still figuring out the best way to get the technology to patients and doctors.

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