University of South Alabama, Office of Public Relations
May 3, 2010
Contact: Jennifer Z. Ekman, USA Public Relations, (251) 460-6360
USAMCI Doctors Develop New Cancer Screen
Lifesaving Technology a Winner in Statewide Business Competition
Dr. Michael Finan, Dr. Lewis Pannell, Dr. Rod Rocconi and Michael Chambers
Dr. Michael Finan, Dr. Lewis Pannell, Dr. Rod Rocconi and Michael Chambers

A lifesaving cancer screening technology being developed by a firm closely tied to the University of South Alabama Mitchell Cancer Institute has won the company a statewide award for its business plan.

Swift Biotechnology’s screening tool for endometrial and ovarian cancers could save 22,000 lives and over $1 billion in health care costs annually by avoiding the expense of later stage radiation and chemotherapy, according to company leaders. Currently, there is no screening tool for these deadly cancers, which typically aren’t detected until the later, more dangerous stages.

Swift Biotechnology was one of three winners at the annual Alabama Launchpad Business Plan Competition for its plan to develop screens for endometrial and ovarian cancer using biomarkers.

Swift is the first company licensing a USA Mitchell Cancer Institute technology to win an award in the Alabama Launchpad contest, now in its fourth year. Swift was awarded $50,000 in development funds for its second-place finish. Launchpad promotes technology licensed by early stage companies from participating academic institutions throughout the state.

“One of the USA Mitchell Cancer Institute’s primary objectives is to conduct state-of-the-art research leading to medical breakthroughs, so we are highly gratified with the success of Swift Biotechnology in the Alabama Launchpad program and we are further convinced that MCI research will contribute to the ultimate humanitarian goal of longer, healthier lives for all, said USA President Gordon Moulton.

This technology was the brainchild of Drs. Michael Finan and Rod Rocconi, gynecologic oncologists, and Dr. Lewis Pannell, research scientist. Their collaboration at MCI combined the clinical skills and creativity of Drs. Rocconi and Finan with Dr. Pannell’s almost 20 years of prior work at the National Institute of Health, much of it in the biomarker field. Their work ultimately developed a novel, early screen for endometrial and ovarian cancer two of the leading causes of death in women. There is no current, effective screening tool for these cancers. At this time, only cervical cancer has a common screening tool.

MCI Executive Director and Abraham Mitchell Chair Dr. Michael Boyd said, “This project exemplifies MCI's mission commitment to improving cancer diagnosis, treatment and prevention through translational, 'bench-to-bedside' research and focusing our research and technology development efforts squarely on unmet needs in the oncology healthcare field.”

Endometrial cancer is the most common of all the gynecologic cancer, with over 40,000 cases diagnosed each year in the U.S. alone. Ovarian cancer is found in 25,000 American women each year. Almost 22,000 women die each year in the United States simply because they are diagnosed too late to be saved. If diagnosed early, virtually every woman survives. If diagnosed in the later stages, 3 out of 4 women die. These cancers are particularly prevalent in women who are diabetic and obese. The southern United States has some of the highest combined rates of obesity and diabetes in the world.

Dr. Laurie Owen, Barbara Colle Chair and MCI associate director for basic and translational science, said, “The relationship between MCI and Swift aligns business and regulatory expertise with a deep knowledge of cancer biology and oncology that will accelerate commercialization and patient access to critically needed early detection methods for endometrial and ovarian cancer. MCI’s commitment to ‘use-inspired’ cancer research is anticipated to consistently drive the development of innovative diagnostic and therapeutic approaches for unmet oncology needs.”

Dr. Finan said, “This is an example of how clinicians working with research scientists can develop technology to revolutionize cancer screening in women.”

Dr. Rocconi added, “The mission of USA and the Mitchell Cancer Institute is not only to invent the technology, but to seek out partners like Swift with experience in commercializing the technology to make sure that the patients realize the benefit of the science.”

Swift President and CEO Michael Chambers said, “By early diagnosis using this screen, we can save 22,000 lives and over $1 billion dollars in health care costs by avoiding the expense of later stage radiation and chemotherapy.”

This is Chambers second Mobile-based startup. He previously helped establish InnoRx Pharmaceuticals in 1999 and served as its President and CEO until negotiating its sale to SurModics (NASDAQ:SRDX) in 2005.

“We consider the Launchpad award to be a validation of not only the science and the medical promise, but also of the business potential with Swift’s involvement,” said Dr. Finan.

Dr. Pannell said, “Swift, with offices at our facility, is an example of the type of collaboration encouraged here. Great things happen when medical, research and business expertise come together.”

With patent filings already undertaken, Swift is acting to validate the biomarkers and obtain clearance from the FDA. Future plans for the screening tool include the possibility of home testing for outreach to rural and third-world markets.

The Alabama Launchpad contest included over 50 teams whose plans and presentations were judged through three levels of review over six months by over 30 investors, academics and industry experts.

Swift’s technology was licensed from the University of South Alabama’s Mitchell Cancer Institute. The Institute was initiated in 2000, and is funded through philanthropic gifts; support from the state of Alabama; the city of Mobile, and Mobile county; federal appropriations; competitive contracts and grants; tobacco settlement funds; and the USA Foundation. The MCI has been greatly enhanced by the philanthropic support of the Mitchell family of Mobile.

The University of South Alabama Mitchell Cancer Institute provides exceptional patient care through innovative treatment and both clinical and basic research. For an appointment, call (251) 665-8000 or 1-800-330-8538 or visit


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