‘Pinprick’ biomarker blood test offers diagnostic potential in HPV-related cancers

Nov. 11, 2020

A potential breakthrough in the early detection of the neck, head and anal cancers linked to human papilloma viruses (HPV) has emerged, according to findings from a multicenter European clinical study evaluating a highly specific diagnostic test that appears to indicate cancer, and predict its course, from just a pinprick of blood, reported Abviris.  

There are more than 200 types of HPV viruses with the most aggressive one, HPV16, responsible for over 90 percent of all HPV-related head and neck tumors, and for over 70 percent of all cases of cervical cancer. The new point-of- care biomarker test detects levels of a specific antibody (named DRH1) to HPV16. The study scientists have been able to demonstrate a link between rising levels of these HPV antibodies and cancer.

The study was published in Ebiomedicine, one of the Lancet’s stable of medical journals and led by Dr. Thomas Weiland from Austria’s Medical University of Graz. He explained: “This is the first time that we have been able to show a link between raised levels of this specific antibody and HPV cancers, indicating the course of disease. This might raise the potential of being able to detect disease recurrence much earlier than current clinical practice.”

The presence of HPV infection does not mean the patient has cancer, and in most cases the body clears the infection. The new test detects an antibody which is only produced when an infection had led to increased cell growth. Previously, no test had been able to discriminate an HPV-infection from actual HPV-induced malignancy.

The study demonstrated a sensitivity of 90-95 percent for anal and oropharyngeal cancers and a specificity of 99.3 percent − performance characteristics that are diagnostically significant compared to existing methods for the early detection of HPV-induced cancers.

Scientists see this as a promising biomarker test, not only for the early diagnosis of HPV-related cancers but for monitoring a patient’s response to therapy and as an early warning that the disease has returned. HPV expert Dr Ralf Hilfrich, founder of Abviris and the creator of the DRH1, blood-based HPV tumor marker, said: “While HPV infection does not indicate cancer, scientists have suspected for some time that if antibodies were to develop, there may be a link to cancer. Being able to detect that early enough

Even with the success of the Pap smear and the vaccine against cervical cancer, HPV-induced cancers remain a global health burden, with an estimated seven billion unprotected people at risk and about 400,000 deaths annually.

Abviris has the release.