Breast cancer fundraising, prevention and treatment gets a lot of press – and rightly so. About 1 in 8 U.S. women (just under 12%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime.
Cervical cancer is just as awful: it is the leading global cause of cancer-related deaths among women – every 2 minutes a woman dies of cervical cancer – though the disease is 100% preventable. The Pap smear, which has been used for 90 years and is the current test for cervical cancer, is as accurate as flipping a coin in detecting cancerous lesions in women.
Chicago-based startup Cervia Diagnostics was launched to bring an accurate, low-cost, and rapid diagnostic tool for cervical cancer screening to all women worldwide.
Founder Solomon Arman is a cancer biologist who trained at Oxford and Cambridge Universities in England, and for the past 5 years, he has served as a research professor at Northwestern University in Evanston working on the development of diagnostics for infectious diseases for the developing world, particularly HIV and tuberculosis.
“Our work has been funded by the Gates Foundation, which is a great thing, but relying on charities to be sustainable and bring a life-saving product to market is challenging if not impossible,” Arman told me.
To solve that funding problem, Arman co-founded TechMoola.com, a crowdfunding site dedicated to technology-focused crowdfunding. As it turns out, raising funds for social and medical causes can be tough. “Most investors have sounded insulted when we tell them that we want to spend 3-5 years developing tools that will fundamentally transform women’s health worldwide. For them, even 3 years is an eternity (how ridiculous!!), and the folks who directly pay the price for this short-term thinking are women who lose their lives to the disease and the people who depend on them for social stability and harmony.”
Despite the seriousness of the Cervia team’s mission, they definitely have a sense of humor. During the Tech Cocktail mixer at TechWeek, their attempts to engage male passersbys by telling them about the Cervia technology and mission got turned around. “On a few occasions, we were asked by these anatomically challenged sympathizers where their cervix is located and if they should be getting screened!”
Armas said that their biggest challenge, though, is making women aware that cervical cancer is a serious threat, “an even bigger one than breast cancer, and that it mainly affects younger women and that their reproductive health needs are just not met with the outdated and inaccurate Pap smear tests out there.”
Despite the uphill battles, Arman is clearly passionate about Cervia Diagnostics and the potential impact it can have:
“Our goal is to be a social venture – to make tons of profit and put that back into giving women worldwide critical access to life-saving technologies and better serve those who have limited access. In the developing world, women have no access to cervical cancer tests, and as a result die at very young ages when they are crucial to economic and social stability. Right here in the US, the urban and rural working poor as well as newly arrived immigrants have incidences of cervical cancer that is similar to sub-Saharan Africa or India! Cervical cancer has to disappear and we won’t take ‘No’ for an answer! We already have the technology, we just need to do the work.”
Cervia Diagnostics was a showcased startup at our Tech Week Chicago mixer.