Cervical cancer test kit jumps Asian cultural hurdles

SINGAPORE - A Singapore-Dutch joint venture has launched a home test kit for cervical cancer to make the process more convenient and help women, particularly in Asia, overcome fear of the traditional pap smear.

Cervical cancer, with about 500,000 new cases and 250,000 deaths each year, is the second most common cancer among women after breast cancer, the World Health Organization says.

"We are still struggling with reaching out to women for cervical cancer screening in Asia," Singapore gynaecological oncologist Tay Eng Hseon said at a media briefing on Monday, citing factors such as shyness, culture, fear and lack of time.

Delphi Bioscience Asia Pte Ltd is a collaboration between Delphi Bioscience BV, a life sciences company based in the Netherlands, and its Singapore partners Tay and businessman David Tan.

The Delphi screener, with a cylindrical shape and round tip, can be inserted to the top of the cervix by the user to collect cells with a sterile, saline liquid. This is then used to test for high-risk Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), which could cause cervical cancer.

In a pap smear, cells are scraped from the opening of the cervix with a speculum and then examined under a microscope.

The recommended retail price for the screener is $79.90, including the laboratory test. This compares with $30-40 for a pap smear in a clinic and more than $100 for an HPV test, Tay said.

Delphi expects the screener to be available at about 100 family physician clinics in Singapore over the next three months and hopes to use the Southeast Asian city-state as a regional launchpad.

Tan, executive managing director (commercial) at Delphi Bioscience Asia, said its Indonesian distributor has committed to 1.5 million units over the next 12 months and Malaysia is next in the company's sights.

But China, the world's second-largest economy, poses significant regulatory hurdles, Tan said.

"China is not on our immediate radar for obvious reasons," he said. "Regulatory approvals take a long time and they are very complicated."