Executive Prowess: Our 2015 Executives of the Year exemplify great leadership
From left to right: Bryan Chan, Small Company Executive of the Year; Anna Stern, Young Executive of the Year; Dan Hartung, Medium Company Executive of the Year; Frank Byrne, Lifetime Achievement Award winner; Kevin Conroy, Executive of the Year and Large Company Executive of the Year
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From the pages of In Business magazine.
Our second annual Executive of the Year presentation includes Greater Madison executives who have made an impact over the past decade, the past several decades, and are likely to shape the Madison business environment in future decades. It features business leaders who are shaping everything from agribusiness to technology, and our Executive of the Year is making a national impact in the fight against cancer.
Executive of the Year and Large Company Executive of the Year
Kevin Conroy can hardly be described as a riverboat gambler, but five years ago he did roll the dice out of necessity. The decision to participate in a Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services parallel review of Exact Sciences’ colorectal cancer screening technology was a risk for the once-struggling company — one that had the potential to save it years of regulatory review or bring the entire product-development effort to a grinding halt.
Without both FDA approval and Medicare coverage, “we didn’t have much of a business,” Conroy admitted. “Half of the patients who need to be screened are of Medicare age, so without simultaneously getting FDA approval and Medicare coverage, it would have been very, very difficult to finance this long-term project.”
The project took five years, but the payoff came in 2014, when the parallel review determined that Cologuard, the company’s noninvasive test, delivered the most accurate results in detecting colon cancer and precancerous polyps. In March of last year, the clinical trial results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine, and later that month, the FDA Advisory Committee unanimously voted to recommend approval of Cologuard.
Then in August, Cologuard received FDA approval, becoming the first product ever approved under the parallel review program. More big news came in October, when Medicare announced its coverage decision with a preliminary price of $502, making the test readily available to millions of Americans covered under Medicare, the federal government’s health care program for seniors.
Conroy is the first to admit that some good fortune was involved. He credited Medicare with innovatively and creatively working with the FDA to create the parallel review program. Without it, Exact
Sciences would have had to take the conventional approach, which would have required a clinical trial for the FDA’s approval and then another trial to get a Medicare coverage decision, which could have added one to three more years to the process and tens of millions of dollars in cost.
That was unworkable, even for a company that raised $400 million in financing, during a period of investor reluctance, to develop its technology. In the past year, Exact Sciences’ workforce has grown to 400, and it expects to double that number in 2015. The company is also looking for a larger Dane County facility, or a local site on which it can build anew, to accommodate the additional health care sales professionals, laboratory technicians, and customer call center professionals it expects to hire.
Conroy is also quick to credit his existing staff, especially Chief Operating Officer Maneesh Arora, Chief Science Officer Graham Lidgard, and Dr. David Ahlquist, a collaborator from the Mayo Clinic.
So the fight against cancer marches on, led in part by a local business executive who has lost family members (aunts and uncles) to various forms of the disease. “Like most people, cancer has touched my family,” Conroy says, “and yes, it is personal.”