Digital health round-up: Digital smear tests, AI-backed R&D, and UCB’s virtual clinical trials

A revolutionary digital scanner that is less painful and more effective than traditional smear tests shows early promise.

LuViva is a diagnostic device that scans the cervix with light and uses spectroscopy to measure how light interacts with the cervical tissue, through a process called biophotonics.

It is able to diagnose cancer even when HPV tests and Pap smears have returned normal results. The results are available within just one minute.

Spectroscopy identifies chemical and structural indicators of pre-cancer that may be below the surface of the cervix or misdiagnosed as benign – and no tissue needs to be taken.

Results of a study were revealed at the Eurasian Cancer Screening Conference held in Minsk, Belarus, showing data comparable to other research previously conducted in the US and Europe.

The sensitivity of LuViva was shown to be 100% (no false negatives) and 45% of women with a negative LuViva result could have avoided additional testing, including biopsy. The confidence that a woman with a negative LuViva result was free of cervical cancer was 100%, which is consistent with previous studies.

Speaking at the conference, Dr Zoltan Hernadi of the University of Debrecen, Hungary, said: “We were impressed by cases in which both the Pap and HPV tests were negative but LuViva was positive and the patient was later found by her biopsy result to be developing cervical cancer.

“This clearly demonstrates the value of LuViva for the early detection of cervical cancer.”

LuViva does have rivals – UK-based Zilico is developing a cervical scanner that also uses non-invasive technology to screen for signs of cancer.

Theresa May backs AI-based R&D

Theresa May has pledged to prioritise artificial intelligence (AI) so chronic diseases are diagnosed at an early stage, potentially saving many lives.

The government hopes that AI will help to prevent 22,000 cancer deaths each year by 2033 by detecting prostate, ovarian, lung and bowel cancer at a less serious stage than they would have otherwise been diagnosed.

Such diagnoses would be achieved through using emerging technologies to cross reference people’s genetics, habits and medical records with national data to spot those at risk of, or at an early stage of cancer. This will prompt doctors to make referrals to an oncologist earlier and even ahead of clear symptoms developing.

Prime minister May outlined the plans to prioritise AI at a speech in Macclesfield, saying: “Late diagnosis of otherwise treatable illnesses is one of the biggest causes of avoidable deaths.

“With the development of smart technologies to analyse great quantities of data quickly and with a higher degree of accuracy than is possible by human beings, opens up a whole new field of medical research.”

UCB to conduct clinical trials with Science 37

UCB is changing the way it conducts some of its research studies, removing the need for patients to attend hospitals by allowing them to take part in virtual clinical trials at home.

The Belgium biopharma company is collaborating with California’s Science 37, which says its ‘decentralised’ clinical research model offers greater patient value and results in data that is more representative of patients’ real-life experience.

Novartis is also working with Science 37, after its new CEO Vas Narasingham made digital R&D one of his top priorities.

UCB’s chief medical officer Prof Dr Iris Loew-Friedrich said: “UCB’s patient value strategy aims to deliver unique outcomes and the best experience to as many patients as possible. Science 37’s decentralised clinical trial approach combines technologies that can fundamentally change the way clinical trials are run.

“With this collaboration, we see an opportunity to not only provide a better patient experience but also to innovate and accelerate our clinical studies in a patient-focused way with the aim to bring new solutions to patients faster.”

Science 37 uses a cloud-based mobile platform called NORA, or the Network Oriented Research Assistant, to facilitate remote, site-less virtual clinical trials. The company says it differs from other mobile health technology players in the space by helping researchers engage directly with trial participants through every stage of the process.

Noah Craft (pictured left), co-founder and CEO of Science 37, said: “We created Science 37 to uniquely combine telemedicine technology, decentralised physician networks, and in-house experienced clinical study staff to take on new and exciting research studies.

“We are thrilled to join forces and collaborate with UCB for an even better, more realistic patient experience moving forward.”  The partnership will enable a more integrated study design process where the patient-centric mindset will guide early protocol development.

Science 37, which Craft co-founded with his wife Belinda Tan, employs doctors, scientists and technologists to remove the geographic limitations typically seen in traditional clinical trials.

The firm says its virtual clinical trial model has demonstrated greater diversity of participants and increased clinical trial efficiency and speed.

UCB isn’t the only pharma company to have been won over by this promise. Science 37 has also signed digital health partnerships with the likes of NovartisSanofi and Otsuka.