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Honors keep coming for Conroy, Exact Sciences

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Kevin Conroy is becoming one of the most decorated executives in the local life-science industry, and his most recent honor will do nothing to detract from that.

Conroy, CEO and chairman of Exact Sciences Corp., has been named the recipient of the Wisconsin Biohealth Business Achievement Award given by BioForward Wisconsin, a state association advocating on behalf of member life-sciences firms.

Conroy will be honored along with the Medical College of Wisconsin’s Dr. Allen W. Cowley, Jr., winner of the Hector F. DeLuca Scientific Achievement Award, during a lunch ceremony at BioForward’s Wisconsin Biohealth Summit on Tuesday, Oct. 9, at the Overture Center in Madison.

The two awards recognize leadership and innovation in the Wisconsin biohealth industry. With Exact Sciences, Conroy has been focused on the early detection and prevention of cancer, as the company has successfully marketed Cologuard, a noninvasive DNA screening test for colon cancer.

Conroy, who has characterized the fight against cancer as a personal one, is honored to join past awardees such as Dr. Lynn-Allen Hoffman of Stratatech-Mallinckrodt, Dr. James Thompson of UW–Madison and Cellular Dynamics, Ralph Kauten of Lucigen and now chairman of First Business Bank, and Bill Linton of Promega Corp. “I’m deeply honored to even be considered for this award,” Conroy states, “which has a long list of recipients who have done pretty remarkable things.”

Exacting standards

Before joining Exact Sciences, Conroy served as president and chief executive officer of Third Wave Technologies, another molecular diagnostics company, until the company’s acquisition by Hologic Inc. He also served as intellectual property counsel at GE Healthcare and in private practice.

With Exact Sciences, he leads a molecular diagnostics company that in just four years after receiving U.S. Food and Drug Administration clearance for Cologuard reached the 1 million mark in terms of qualified adults to screen with the test. In 2018, Exact Sciences anticipates revenue of $420–$430 million and has established an ambitious goal of 900,000 screens for 2018, which Conroy called “an exciting and achievable goal.”

That objective was established even before the company’s stock reached new heights on the news that drug giant Pfizer would market Cologuard for colorectal cancer screening. Beginning in the fourth quarter of 2018, Pfizer reportedly will invest up to $24 million through 2021 to boost Cologuard sales.

“We thought that we could [reach 900,000 screens] even without this [Pfizer] deal,” Conroy states. 

His optimism is based on Exact Science’s rapid growth in the second quarter of 2018, and the anticipation of continued strong growth. Exact Sciences generated revenue of $102.9 million and completed approximately 215,000 Cologuard tests during the quarter ending June 30, 2018. Second-quarter 2018 revenue and Cologuard test volume grew by 78% and 59%, respectively, over the same period in 2017.

Continued growth of its physician ordering base — more than 10,000 healthcare providers ordered their first Cologuard test during the second quarter, and nearly 121,000 have ordered since the test was launched — as well as their increasing Cologuard utilization, led to a record quarter for revenue, volume, and gross profit. Given the American Cancer Society’s recent guideline update, Exact Sciences is optimistic about the opportunity to expand Cologuard’s reach to more people in the 45 to 49-year-old age group.

Colorectal cancer, the second leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. (with more than 50,000 deaths each year), is recognized as the most preventable yet least prevented form of cancer. When diagnosed in the earliest stages, nine out of 10 people survive more than five years, but only one out of 10 people survive more than five years when the disease is discovered in later stages. Less than two-thirds of the American population is up to date with recommended colorectal cancer screening guidelines, even with Exact Sciences’ noninvasive test on the market.

Earlier this year, Exact Sciences announced a project surrounding the early detection of liver cancer, this time with the Mayo Clinic, but Conroy says it was Cologuard that confirmed the value of the biomarker approach to building a scientific platform. In creating a stool-based DNA test, Exact Sciences sought to use what it calls “the most discriminating and informative biomarkers” to ensure the highest possible sensitivity in detecting colorectal cancer. The test includes a protein biomarker (hemoglobin), seven distinct DNA point mutation biomarkers, and two different DNA methylation biomarkers. An additional DNA biomarker known as the beta actin gene indicates whether the appropriate amount of stool DNA is analyzed in each sample.

“Cologuard validates the scientific approach to a radically different way of screening for cancer, and the liver test is just an extension of Cologuard’s technology into an important new area,” states Conroy, who was In Business magazine’s 2015 “Executive of the Year.”


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