The World Health Organization (WHO) sees an increasing HPV vaccination worldwide as a great opportunity in the fight against various types of cancer. At the organization’s annual meeting, WHO director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared that he wanted to use the HPV vaccine more widely. The aim is to act against the globally increasing cases of cervical cancer. With additional treatments and new tests, five million deaths could be avoided by 2050 and many lives could be saved, said Ghebreyesus[1].

What is the strategy of WHO? In the following, we will take a closer look at the dangers coming from a human papillomavirus infection (HPV). We will also discuss the opportunities that vaccination offers against HPV.

What happens with an HPV infection?

HPV infection is primarily a sexually transmitted infection. In fact, most sexually active people become infected with the virus at least once in their lives[2]. However, most HPV infections have no apparent symptoms. They heal on their own. They can no longer be detected after just one or two years.

Regardless of the inconspicuous course, a distinction is made between low-risk HPV types and high-risk HPV types. The former is, for instance, responsible for HPV genital warts that require medical treatment. If an infection with high-risk HPV does not heal by itself, it can develop into cancer through various preliminary stages. This lasts on average 10 to 15 years[3].

According to the Center for Cancer Registry Data, around 6,250 women and 1,600 men develop HPV-related cancers in Germany every year[4].

Types of cancer caused by HPV include:

  • Cervical cancer
  • Carcinomas in the genital area: vagina, vulva, penis and in the anus
  • Head-and-Neck tumors in the area of ​​the throat, tonsils and the base of the tongue

What diseases does HPV vaccination protect against?

Vaccines against the main high-risk types of HPV have been around for several years[5]. The human papillomavirus vaccine has been used in Europe and the USA since 2006. In 2020, a first study from Sweden demonstrated the success of vaccinating against cervical cancer. According to the study results, women who were vaccinated against HPV up to the age of 17 had an 88 percent lower risk of cervical cancer than unvaccinated women[6].

Furthermore, the vaccine is used as a preventive measure for Head-and-Neck malignancies. Anna-Bawany Hums works as a molecular biologist in the research and development department of oncgnostics GmbH: “Head-and-Neck tumors that are traced back to papillomavirus develop over even longer periods of time than cervical cancer. Therefore, there are no current studies that show the effects of HPV vaccinations on these cancers[6]. This makes it all the more important to improve the diagnosis for this disease at the same time. We at oncgnostics are researching how to detect Head-and-Neck tumors in their early stages using non-invasive diagnostic methods. In this way we want to increase the chance of a therapeutic success. The earlier cancer is detected, the better the prospects of a cure are for those who are affected”.

Who should be vaccinated?

The German Standing Committee on Vaccination (STIKO) states that the most effective HPV vaccine age, both for boys and girls, should be between 9 and 14. Child vaccinations should be executed due to several reasons:

  • Protection against individual HPV types can no longer be established if there is a permanent infection or even a precancerous stage. The HPV vaccination is therefore ideally carried out before the first sexual contact is made. Missed vaccinations should be made up as soon as possible. This can be done up to the age of 17 years.
  • Studies show that younger girls have a better immune response to the HPV vaccine than older girls. Correspondingly, vaccination for kids only requires two doses of vaccine.

Whether you are vaccinated or not: HPV Prevention is central

HPV-induced cancers develop over many years and precursors. Even after the HPV vaccination, a residual risk remains. Regular preventive examinations are therefore of crucial importance. In Germany, for instance, a new program for early detection of cervical cancer has been in place since 2020. The program includes co-testings with Pap smear and HPV test for women aged 35 and over.

At its annual meeting, the WHO urged the 194 member countries that at least 70 percent of women should be tested for cervical cancer by the age of 35. In addition, by 2030 at least 90 percent of girls should be fully vaccinated against HPV before they turn 15 years old.

There are still no standardized rules worldwide on systematic preventive examinations for Head-and-Neck tumors. Therefore, it is important to consult a doctor soon in order to clarify complaints in the mouth and throat area at an early stage.

 

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[1] WHO stellt Strategie zur Bekämpfung von Gebärmutterhalskrebs vor. In: Ärzteblatt, 17. November 2020. Online:  www.aerzteblatt.de/nachrichten/118411/WHO-stellt-Strategie-zur-Bekaempfung-von-Gebaermutterhalskrebs-vor

[2] Robert Koch Institut (2020): HPV (Humane Papillomviren): Antworten auf häufig gestellte Fragen (FAQ) zu Erreger und Impfung. Online:  www.rki.de/SharedDocs/FAQ/Impfen/HPV/FAQ-Liste_HPV_Impfen.html;jsessionid=3F10B057E8CD109E0C8EF04167FB32E6.internet072?nn=2375548

[3] Bundesgesundheitsministerium (2020): Verbesserte Früherkennung von Gebärmutterhalskrebs seit Januar 2020. Online: www.bundesgesundheitsministerium.de/themen/praevention/frueherkennung-vorsorge/frueherkennung-von-gebaermutterhalskrebs.html

[4] Robert Koch Institut (2018): RKI-Ratgeber. Humane Papillomviren. Online: www.rki.de/DE/Content/Infekt/EpidBull/Merkblaetter/Ratgeber_HPV.html

[5] Krebsinformationsdienst: Humane Papillomviren und Krebs. Online: www.krebsinformationsdienst.de/vorbeugung/risiken/hpv.php

[6] Robert Koch Institut (2020): HPV (Humane Papillomviren): Antworten auf häufig gestellte Fragen (FAQ) zu Erreger und Impfung. Online: www.rki.de/SharedDocs/FAQ/Impfen/HPV/FAQ-Liste_HPV_Impfen.html;jsessionid=3F10B057E8CD109E0C8EF04167FB32E6.internet072?nn=2375548

 

Almost half of mankind owns this organ and every human life starts in it: the uterus. At the latest, with the first menstruation every woman becomes aware of her own uterus. But how exactly does the female reproductive organ look and what functions does it fulfil?

The uterus is one of the female internal reproductive organs. It consists of muscles whose shape resembles an inverted pear and is located slightly above the pubic bone. In an adult woman, the womb is 7-10 cm and weighs 50-60 g. It is supported by the pelvic floor muscles.

The uterus consists of two parts

Uterus Womb

The upper, thicker part of the uterus is called the body (Corpus Uteri), whilst the lower, narrower section forms the cervix (Cervix Uteri).

In the upper part of the uterine body, the fallopian tubes are located on both sides and transport the mature egg into the uterine cavity, where a fertilised egg may implant itself and develop into an embryo, in other words, a baby. However, this requires a well-built endometrium. Hormonal factors cause the endometrium to regenerate cyclically. If no pregnancy occurs, it is shed and menstruation occurs.

The connection between the uterus and the vagina is the cervix; while the cervical canal opens into the womb, the external orifice of the uterus leads to the vagina.

The uterus during pregnancy

When a baby is developing in the womb, the uterus does amazing things: it expands, stretches and thickens to accommodate the developing baby, the placenta and the amniotic fluid. The womb alone can weigh about one kilo during pregnancy. During birth, the muscles of the womb contract and different contractions eventually help to give birth to the baby.

Uterus diseases

If the pelvic floor is weak, the uterus may sag. Besides, benign tumours, so-called myomas, may form in the musculature of the uterus. A very common gynaecological disorder is endometriosis. The endometrium is mislocated outside the womb, which often is very painful for women and frequently leads to failure to conceive.

Uterine cancer affects the uterine body and is usually caused by hormones, but sometimes also by genetic predisposition. Unusual bleeding may be a symptom of cancer and should be checked.

For example, if a woman becomes infected with HPV (Human Papillomavirus) during sexual intercourse, in most cases, the HPV infection heals on its own. However, in rare cases, the infection persists and changes the tissue around the cervix. These changes (dysplasias) may also regress. However, precancerous stages up to and including cervical cancer may develop. For this reason, it is important to regularly visit the gynaecologist for a cancer screening, to detect cervical cancer early. If possible, in its preliminary stages.

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Cover Foto: GoodStudio/Shutterstock.com
Graphic: Blamb/Shutterstock.com

During the first days of March, Dr. Alfred Hansel took a close look at the healthcare system of Cuba. The Managing Director of oncgnostics GmbH participated in the Cuban-German Healthtech Summit in Havana. Cervical cancer and its early detection is a big issue in Cuba.

Dr. Alfred Hansel, Managing Director of oncgnostics GmbH, attended the event to get a first-hand impression of the Cuban health-care system and the corresponding market. During a delegation trip organised by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, representatives of 10 German companies from the medical sector met with representatives of the Cuban health-care industry. The latter gave an insight into their work and the Cuban health care system, while the German companies gave short presentations to the Cuban audience. Opportunities for cooperation were discussed in subsequent bilateral talks. Dr. Hansel had a particularly thorough exchange with representatives of the Hermanos Ameijeiras Clinical-Surgical Hospital, who was very interested in GynTect, the cervical cancer screening test developed by oncgnostics GmbH, and who invited Dr. Hansel for a visit at the hospital’s lab.

Early detection of cervical cancer

The Cuban health-care system is progressive. Pap smears have been used for cervical cancer screening since the late 1960s. Cuban women can undergo the test once every three years. And it was successful! The number of new cases as well as the death rate fell steadily. But since the 1990s the trend has reversed, with more and more women suffering from cervical cancer and even more women dying of it. The reasons are yet unknown. An examination every three years may not be enough. Moreover, only about 70% of women actually go for the regular cervical cancer screening.

Cooperation on a study

The Hermanos Ameijeiras Clinical-Surgical Hospital, the largest hospital in Cuba and a reference centre for research and education, would like to contribute to improving cervical cancer prevention in Cuba by means of a clinical trial in the near future.

‘Representatives of the hospital showed great interest in GynTect, our test for the detection of cervical cancer, and are currently in the starting phase of a study that will demonstrate the advantage of the HPV test over the Pap smear. We have talked intensively about using GynTect to complement the study. In the next few days, we will develop the ideas raised in Cuba in order to possibly implement them soon’, says Dr. Alfred Hansel

Human papillomaviruses are a group of widespread viruses. In most cases, people affected by the virus are unaware of the infection. However, certain types of HPV are responsible for the development of tumours, such as cervical cancer.

Almost everyone gets infected with HPV at some point in their lives. HP viruses are mainly transmitted by skin-to-skin contact, but also by sexual intercourse. The infection often remains undetected because no symptoms are noticed and the infection heals by itself. However, harmless or unpleasant warts, such as genital warts, can occur. In a few cases and with certain types of HPV, chronic HPV infection occurs, which can last for several years. This can lead to malignant cell changes. The consequence may be precancerous lesions or cancer. In particular, HP viruses are responsible for the development of cervical cancer. However, tumours in the mouth, vagina, penis and anal area can also be caused by human papillomaviruses.

High-risk HPV types

Not all HP viruses are causing cancer. To date, more than 200 HPV types have been conclusively identified, according to the Robert Koch Institute. They can be classified into five different groups: Alpha, beta, gamma, mu and nu HPV. Only the alpha-HPV group can infect the skin and mucousal cells in humans.

In general, these types can be subdivided into high- and low-risk types. The low-risk types (“low risk” viruses) can cause warts in the genital area. However, a life-threatening disease can be rarely feared when infected with low-risk HPV types. In contrast, high-risk types (high-risk viruses) can cause malignant cell changes, i.e. cancer.

Protection against HPV infection

Vaccination against HPV is the most effective protection against an HPV infection. Not even condoms provide sufficient protection during intercourse. Children aged nine and older can be vaccinated against certain high-risk HPV types. In general, vaccination should preferably be applied before the first sexual intercourse. This is true for both boys and girls alike, because vaccination not only protects against cervical cancer. There are also other types of cancer associated with HPV, as mentioned above. In addition to vaccination, women should visit their gynaecologist regularly for cancer screening.

From 18 to 21 November we attended MEDICA 2019, in Düsseldorf. We were at the joint booth for the industry association medways e.V. in the world’s largest trade fair for the medical sector.

Record Number of Exhibitors and Visitors

This year the trade fair broke its own record once again with around 5,500 exhibitors and 121,000 visitors. About 170 different countries gathered at the No. 1 platform for international business. Many visitors came by oncgnostics’ booth to learn about our latest developments.

“For us, MEDICA is the most important trade fair of the year. This is where the industry comes together, where we make and maintain important contacts. As exhibitors, we are able to introduce ourselves, and we are very happy to use our own booth for meetings. At the same time, it is always worth taking a tour around the fair to get up to date,” says Dr Alfred Hansel, oncgnostics’ Managing Director, describing his impressions.

Pitch at COMPAMED

Dr. Peter Haug

Simultaneously to MEDICA, COMPAMED, the trade fair for medical suppliers, took place. Our Head of Business Development & Licensing, Dr Peter Haug, accepted the invitation of IVAM, the professional association for microtechnology, and gave a sales pitch at the High-tech for Medical Devices forum.

“Oncgnostics GmbH is not only a manufacturer of reliable and innovative devices for cancer diagnostics: It is also of interest as a development partner to other pharmaceutical and diagnostic companies that would like to develop reliable tests based on epigenetic markers for new indications with us. Moreover, thanks to our strategic partnership with GeneoDx, a subsidiary of the Chinese SINOPHARM Group, we are also able to offer high-volume orders,” summarises Dr Peter Haug.

Oncgnostics GmbH is greatly honoured to have been selected by EURONEXT for the TechShare programme. We will be participating in top-class workshops and coaching sessions for half a year.

High-quality Coaching for Start-ups

As one of eleven German start-ups in the medical and biotech sectors, we will have the opportunity to broaden our horizons over the next six months. We will learn how a potential IPO should be prepared, and for which companies it can be useful. In addition, we can look forward to high-quality coaching directly at our premises in Jena. With the acquired knowledge, we will be able to constantly work on and strengthen our company strategy.

Learning from the Success of Others

Euronext TechShare Campus 2019 Rotterdam | photo: Robert Tjalondo © | www.rockinpictures.com

Dr Peter Haug, Head of Business Development & Licensing at oncgnostics, was present at the Kick-off Campus Erasmus Centre for Entrepreneurship at the University of Rotterdam. The extensive programme was supported by top speakers such as Onno van de Stolpe, CEO and founder of Galapagos NV. The Belgian drug research company was founded in 1999 and successfully went public just six years later: ‘It is very inspiring to hear about the success stories of former start-ups,’ says Dr Peter Haug, describing van de Stolpe’s presentation. ‘In addition, EURONEXT has put together a fascinating selection of high-profile European start-ups. I already knew some of them before, and look forward to networking with the others, all of whom are facing similar next steps and challenges as we are at oncgnostics GmbH.’

After the kick-off in Rotterdam with around 150 international participants, they will continue in different groups. Oncgnostics GmbH will participate in four workshops in Munich, together with six other companies from the Biotech and Medtech sectors. Next spring, all participants will meet in Lisbon for the closing event.

Dr. Alfred Hansel in Spanien

On 12 June, the conference ‘XIII Jornada de Formación en Patología del Tracto Genital inferior y Colposcopia‘ was held in Madrid. Oncgnostics’ managing director Dr Alfred Hansel was one of the speakers at the training event for gynaecologists.

Experts Exchange Knowledge

At the conference, experts updated their knowledge on HPV-related cancers in women’s genital tract. In his lecture, Dr Alfred Hansel described possible cervical cancer diagnostics that go beyond HPV testing. In addition, the participants were able to join various workshops, such as colposcopy courses. Furthermore, the participants had the opportunity to visit the NIMGenetics, distributor of GynTect® in Spain, booth at the industrial exhibition event, and inform themselves about the test.

Investor Days

On 18 June oncgnostics managing director, Dr Alfred Hansel, visited Investor Days Thüringen in Erfurt, and was pleased to receive the ‘bm|t sustainable business award’.

Thuringia’s Sector Network Meeting

As a large sector network meeting, Investor Days bring together the different parties involved: Young companies, investors, decision makers and representatives from economy, science and politics. Selected formats and an entertaining evening programme encourage visitors to get to know each other and exchange knowledge.

Meet the Rising Stars

During the so-called ‘Meet the Rising Stars’, Oncgnostics GmbH presented itself. Managing Director Dr Alfred Hansel presented the current developments of the company to the audience in a 7-minute pitch.

The surprise of the day was the awarding of the ‘bm|t sustainable business award’ to oncgnostics GmbH: ‘We are delighted to receive this award,’ says Dr Alfred Hansel, ‘especially since we did not expect it at all. Thank you very much!’

About Investor Days

The Investor Days Thüringen is an initiative of the Foundation for Technology, Innovation and Research Thuringia (STIFT) and the beteiligungsmanagement thüringen gmbh (bm|t) to bring together innovative start-ups and growth companies with potential cooperation or business partners, as well as investors and business angels.

ICHNO 2019

The International Congress on Innovative Approaches in Head and Neck Oncology (ICHNO) took place, for the seventh time, in Barcelona from 14 to 16 March. Anna-Bawany Hums participated in the interdisciplinary exchange of experts on behalf of oncgnostics GmbH.

Specialists from all over the World

Among the approximately 600 international participants, there were clinicians from various disciplines, as well as representatives from the research field. This year, the focus of the specialist lectures was on the presentation of results of current researches on Carcinogenesis: The spread of the disease, the application of different therapeutic approaches, and treatment strategies for head and neck tumours, as well as background and state of research in Radiation Oncology.

ICHNO 2019 in Barcelona

Interactive Event

The fact that the exchange between experts in Barcelona is very important was demonstrated by, for example, the so-called active tumour board. At the event, all participants were invited to discuss a real (but already closed) case. Using an online voting system, medical professionals were able to decide to use different treatment methods at certain points during the presentation of the case. The result reflected the implementation of various therapeutic approaches and the increasing use of new therapeutic strategies. However, there were also panel discussions and poster exhibitions.

Head and Neck Tumours in Research

‘Such an interdisciplinary exchange opens up new perspectives on our work,’ states Anna-Bawany Hums. ‘In addition, the congress once again confirmed that biomarkers for the detection of malignant cells would offer many advantages for the affected patients, as a complement to current treatment strategies,’ continued the biologist with regard to the current research being conducted at oncgnostics, adding that ‘a cancer test for the detection of head and neck tumours such as the one we are developing requires only a saliva sample. For affected patients, this is a very gentle method for the clarification of cancer.’

Focus on the Oncological Patient

Fira de Barcelona - Veranstaltungsort der ICHNO 2019

Fira de Barcelona – Veranstaltungsort der ICHNO 2019

What does supportive care mean? What services do patients need, for example, to cope better with the side effects of cancer? The focus of the congress was not only the

disease, but also the patient: ‘The topic was particularly vivid at an event in which a patient reported on her medical history. She talked about how doctors informed her about her disease, what helped her after therapy, and what she would have liked in doctor-patient communication. It was quite enlightening,’ Anna-Bawany Hums says.

Indien oncgnostics GmbH

From the 9 to the 16 In February, our managing director Dr Martina Schmitz travelled to India as a participant of the delegation trip ‘Thuringia goes India’. There she got an impression of the Indian market and made first contacts. The trip took place under the direction of Wolfgang Tiefensee, Thuringia’s Minister for Economic Affairs, Science and Digital Society.

From Pune to Mumbai

Dr Martina Schmitz faced a tight programme at four cities in only one week. From New Delhi to Pune, Coimbatore and finally Mumbai. Her itinerary started in the north and continued in the south of India, returning to the north again. Together with the other participants, our managing director visited medium-sized companies, and took part in various round tables and receptions, such as those organised by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI). Dr Martina Schmitz also visited two hospitals in Pune to have the Indian healthcare system explained to her.

Promising Contacts with Indian Companies

Representatives of Indian companies met representatives of Thuringian companies in the so-called round tables. Some of the meetings were organised in advance, but many contacts also came about spontaneously. ‘I was able to have some promising conversations’, says Dr Martina Schmitz, ‘now, back in Germany, these contacts should be checked and a follow-up should be agreed on.’

India: A Country Full of Contrasts

Dr Martina Schmitz was impressed by the different worlds that meet in India: ‘On the way to a company I drive along an alley full of people. Power cables are laid open next to the houses. There is rubbish on the street. Then I reach my destination, enter the building, and I find myself inside a glamorous office.’ Tradition and modernity also coexist closely in India. Not only during temple visits did the travellers get a Bindi, a dot pressed on their foreheads, but also during business appointments: ‘This trip provided me with a good insight of the Indian market. I am looking forward to strengthening the contacts I have established’, summarises Dr Martina Schmitz on the results of the India trip.