Local Company Creates New Test For Melanoma

DermTech Says New Test Will Not Require Biopsies, Scalpels

A San Diego-based company has developed a new, non-invasive test for the deadliest form of skin cancer.

Medical experts say an estimated 1 in 50 Americans will get melanoma in their lifetime. But local company DermTech has created a test for the disease that does not include biopsies or scalpels.

"It's an enormous opportunity," said DermTech CEO George Schwartz. "I suspect this will be the largest genetic test in history because of the magnitude of the opportunity."

Schwartz expects sales of the test in the high-risk population in the U.S. to exceed $1 billion a year.

Instead of removing any skin surgically, the test involves using a custom adhesive to remove cells from the skin. Those cells are then tested for melanoma.

"It's very exciting," said Dr. Robert Scheinberg, an Oceanside dermatologist who participated in the DermTech study.

The study detected melanoma 100 percent of the time, with 12 percent false positives. Scheinberg thinks more people will get tested once they know they won't be facing the scalpel.

"If they see a mole that's changing a little bit, they won't be afraid to come in and so we'll be able to diagnose them early," he said.

Early diagnosis is the key, and Scheinberg said melanoma detected in its earliest stages is 100 percent curable.

"To know that all you're going to do is have a little bit of tape put over you," he said. "A lot of those people will come in."

Schwartz puts it this way: "If you're a patient with lots of moles on your back, you go to see your dermatologist. He or she can't possibly remove all those lesions. But there's no reason they wouldn't put a piece of tape on it."

It is estimated for every 30 biopsies performed, only one will actually test positive for melanoma. The DermTech test at least makes it less painful and invasive for patients.

Melanoma accounts for only 4 percent of skin cancer cases, but 80 percent of skin cancer deaths

DermTech's study data was recently published in the British Journal of Dermatology.

DermTech still has to go through trials and approval from the Food and Drug Administration, and the company believes the earliest their test could be available is in two years.

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