SEIML is working with the Neo-Health Group in its efforts to combat the spread of HPV globally.
“Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is now a well-established cause of cervical cancer and there is growing evidence of HPV being a relevant factor in other anogenital cancers (anus, vulva, vagina and penis) as well as head and neck cancers. HPV types 16 and 18 are responsible for about 70% of all cervical cancer cases worldwide. HPV vaccines that prevent HPV 16 and 18 infections are now available and have the potential to reduce the incidence of cervical and other anogenital cancers. [Source: ICO Information Centre on HPV and Cancer (HPV Information Centre), 2017]
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) can often be an uncomfortable topic to discuss, whether at home or in a business environment. However, their harm on the population can be great. Since the early 1980s, most people have become acutely aware of HIV. But the awareness of HPV, particularly in some Asian countries is far less. Increasing public awareness and advocating quality assured programs for testing and vaccines can do much to improve the quality of life and longevity of many.
According to published reports, the crude global prevalence of HPV is around 32.1% in females. HPV can be transmitted through sexual contact, thus male HPV detection is as important as female. Well-organised cervical screening programmes or widespread good quality cytology can reduce cervical cancer incidence and mortality. The introduction of HPV vaccination can also effectively reduce the burden of cervical cancer in the coming decades. Some parts of the world, North America, Australia, parts of South America and Europe have comprehensive programmes with high quality assurance. However, though many Asian countries have programmes there are no minimum quality assurance standards. In addition, currently, there is no certified male specific HPV diagnostic test nor a HPV vaccination program for the male population.
Hong Kong, due to its history and connection with Britain, has become a centre of expertise in HPV. One company located there, Neo-Health Group, has been pioneering new approaches and vaccines to arrest the spread of HPV and other STDs in Hong Kong. Now the company is expanding its remit to focus on delivering HPV vaccines and testing throughout a large part of Asia. The CEO of the company, Dr Francois Fong, has first targeted Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia and Cambodia and is looking at the investment and distribution network needed to deliver these services in these four countries. In testing for STDs, quality control is of paramount importance and so the process cannot be rushed. The regulatory and approval process in these four countries means operations could start by early 2018 for female testing.
Neo-Health has also pioneered a male test kit and vaccine that, at this time, remains unique. As a new product, it would need to undergo a variety of tests and approvals and could be ready for use in early 2019. The issue of China poses greater developmental problems given the size and population of the country. The government is keen to support the development of these test kits and vaccines but has a longer review and approval process and the male test kits would not be on market until January 2020, at the earliest.
Testing and vaccines for matters like HPV is both important for the individual and the general public. Widespread disease creates a huge economic cost for family units or the public service and creates large personal and physical hardship for those inflicted with the disease. Public and government awareness can lead to major initiatives that lead to the offering of widespread testing, vaccines and better health in the society. But there are practical and logistical issues that also need to be addressed. First, is the testing and government approvals. Next is the investment to build the facilities that will produce these test kits and vaccines – and under the most strict of quality control. Next comes creating an effective network of doctors and other health services to deliver the testing to the population and have adequate laboratories to do the testing, which also requires much in the way of skilled employment. Lastly, as Neo-Health is a private company, financing must be raised in this capital intensive business and development process.
SEIML is working with Neo-Health Group to assess the market, design a business model for distribution and assisting with forecasts and projections so as to raise adequate financing from the investment community. As Principal of SEIML, it is a fascinating experience for me, not just in the business development and financing, but in working with a company that is pioneering new methods to address important health issues that greatly impact our society. Being able to assist in this good cause and to learn about important advancements that impact our society are what make a career rewarding in the broadest of senses.
Dr Francois Fong John D. Evans CFA