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Madison-based Exact Sciences broadens scope in cancer diagnostics
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MEDICINE | Cancer Screening and Treatment

Madison-based Exact Sciences broadens scope in cancer diagnostics

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Thrive

Employees at an Exact Sciences lab in Cambridge, Mass., work to develop a test to screen for multiple forms of cancer with a single blood draw.

When Exact Sciences moved to Madison from Boston in 2009, the company had 20 employees and the intention of developing a colon cancer screening test.

Now, millions of people are screened each year using Exact Sciences’ Cologuard, the company employs more than 5,000 people, and multiple tests are in development for various types and aspects of cancer.

In the last three years, Exact Sciences has broadened its diagnostic abilities by acquiring several companies and purchasing the exclusive use of a testing technology that can detect cancer. The acquired products, both in commercial use and in development, range from screening for cancer, determining the best course of treatment for a cancer patient, and testing blood for recurring cancer.

“We have a strategy to be able to have a suite of services that comprehensively help physicians and patients, make sure that they detect cancer as early as possible and also get the best information to make treatment decisions,” CEO Kevin Conroy said. “The acquisitions that we have done all fit within that strategy. They all support making sure that we can take care of patients.”

Exact Sciences bought blood sample storage developer Biomatrica in 2018. But analyst Brian Weinstein, with investment firm William Blair & Co., marks the $2.8 billion acquisition of Genomic Health, announced in July 2019, as the start of Exact Sciences’ testing expansion.

Exact Sciences buying Genomic Health in $2.8 billion deal

Genomic Health, which is based in California, developed Oncotype DX, a test that helps doctors determine whether or not chemotherapy would be useful in treating a breast cancer patient based on the cancer’s genetic information. That acquisition expanded Exact Sciences from screening for cancer to helping treat it.

But that was just the first in a series of acquisitions. Since then, Exact Sciences acquired four more companies — Viomics, Paradigm, Base Genomics and Thrive — and licensed one technology — targeted digital sequencing, or TARDIS — to bring the company into the fields of determining if treatment was successful and detecting recurring cancer.

Isaac Kinde, M.D., Ph.D., co-founder, Thrive.

Dr. Isaac Kinde co-founded Thrive, which was acquired by Exact Sciences earlier this year.

By expanding its scope, Exact Sciences hopes to turn itself into a one-stop shop for cancer diagnostics.

“Physicians and patients want to work with the most advanced company where they can have one point of contact for many different tests,” Conroy said. “It’s kind of like wanting to go to UW Health and see many different specialists when trying to treat a condition, rather than having to get in your car and drive all over town to see different doctors.”

Company goals

Exact Sciences is a publicly traded company on the Nasdaq under the ticker EXAS, and the market has viewed the company’s acquisitions favorably, Weinstein said. Not only do the acquisitions expand the reach of the company to more patients, but they also show that the company is committed to reaching its goals of detecting and treating cancer.

“It’s showing that the company is technology agnostic,” Weinstein said. “They’re willing to use really anything that’s available to get to the answers that bring them into those markets.”

Exact Sciences’ approach is based on how to best help patients by advancing cancer diagnostics and treatment, Conroy said, whether that’s taking on a new project within the company or acquiring another company that has already done work that could benefit the goals.

Thrive

Exact Sciences, with research and technology from acquired companies, is developing diagnostic tools for multiple cancers. 

“Our core will be developing new tests within Exact Sciences,” Conroy said. “We will always look at how we can bring other innovative companies into the Exact Sciences family.”

A multi-player

Development of a multicancer screening test done through a blood draw is a top priority for Exact Sciences, Conroy said. He said it would be “probably the most powerful diagnostic ever developed.”

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An early study of the test, which Conroy described last fall, found that it could identify 83-87% of cases that had esophageal, liver, lung, ovarian, pancreatic or stomach cancers with a false positive rate of about 5%.

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Exact Sciences, in partnership with Mayo Clinic, has been researching biomarkers for various cancers in blood for about eight years.

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Although the company has expanded quickly over the past few years, Weinstein said he doesn’t see risk in overburdening the team. Along with taking itself through the process of Food and Drug Administration approval with Cologuard and its expansions within Madison, Weinstein said Exact Sciences collected a team of top talent to lead the business.

“These guys can do a lot more than just walk and chew gum at the same time,” Weinstein said. “I don’t think it causes organizational confusion; I don’t think it causes confusion among investors. It’s a singular play on becoming the world’s best diagnostics company led by the best individuals.”


Shining stars: Meet the Madison area's Top Workplaces

Make no mistake about it: The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have left painful scars. But this year’s Top Workplaces project shows that many employees across the Madison region remain resiliently upbeat and are clinging to their workplace cultures, even from a distance.

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Celebrate the best of Madison’s local employers and hear top executives explain how they create and maintain their cultures of growth.

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This year’s winners run the gamut from dentistry to financial institutions and engineering to software developers and many more.

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Survey feedback from employees is the sole basis for determining Top Workplaces. And that feedback serves as the ultimate test of how employers are responding in the age of COVID.

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This year’s top-ranked large organization, with about 590 Madison-area employees, UW Credit Union has made diversity a priority during the past few years. 

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Exact Sciences, which rose from a small operation to a growing force in cancer diagnostics, thrives on a workplace culture fueled by innovation, teamwork and a common enemy.

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Teamwork, problem-solving and helping agents find success — however they measure it — drive the workplace culture at First Weber Realtors.

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The ability of Kwik Trip employees to manage change was important to the convenience store chain’s success during the past year, as it expanded, rolled out new product offerings and dealt with COVID-19.

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Here are the other top-ranked large firms in Top Workplaces 2021, rounding out a diverse mix of some of the area’s bigger employers and featuring a range of benefits that employees are able to tap into.

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The Madison-based firm, which develops mass notification software to alert employees at schools, government office and businesses to emergency situations, strives to understand what drives high job satisfaction among its employees.

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WPPI Energy president and CEO Mike Peters says communication is vital to the success of the Sun Prairie-based, member-owned operation that serves 51 local electric utilities with wholesale electric power supply, utility technologies and services.

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Employees at Madison-based Ascendium Education Group have adopted the values and mission of the organization and appreciate the training that keeps them on the cutting edge.

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Fairway Independent Mortgage Corporation values humility and customer service in a culture that has buy-in from CEO Steve Jacobson to the newe…

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The disruption and chaos inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic tested the stability of First Choice Dental’s workplace culture.

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The Top Workplaces winners among midsize companies reflect innovative styles to building corporate cultures that their employees embrace. Here’s a look at the other winners in the mid-size category:

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When the pandemic arrived, Horizon Develop Build Manage president and CEO Dan Fitzgerald was certain of one thing: His employee culture, built purposefully and over time, would carry the company through all of the disruption.

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When Jack Koziol started InfoSec Institute in Madison in 2004, he felt that workplace culture was nothing more than a corporate buzzword. Seventeen years later, he knows better.

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In the past chaos-packed year, revenues dipped for the downtown advertising, design and digital agency — a result of the economic mess created by the pandemic — and the agency had its first layoffs in 20 years, while its staff was scattered to complete work remotely.

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Being successful in providing customers with information technology solutions and services starts with a family-centered culture based on fun, gratitude and expertise at AE Business Solutions.

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The Sun Prairie-based company, which specializes in servicing and supplying components for heavy-duty, off-highway equipment through 10 service centers in the U.S. and Canada, strives for transparency.

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Although winners in the small-company category reflect a variety of missions, they share a common characteristic: They have built strong workplaces that provide stand-out benefits and flexibility. Here are the other winners in the small-company category:

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Among this year’s Top Workplaces, employees singled out several companies for their extraordinary efforts in important phases of workplace life, ranging from leadership to transparency.

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Businesses that suddenly found themselves in the midst of a pandemic that shattered conventional ways of working quickly discovered that a strong workplace culture was vital to surviving and thriving during the crisis.

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We have no idea what the extent of these changes will be or whether this whole notion of “normal” will ever find itself back into our lives.

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Jim Nussle, president and CEO of the Credit Union National Association, spoke about what makes CUNA’s culture special.

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Kathy Marsh, co-founder and vice chair of Musicnotes, shares her thoughts on the workplace culture at the Madison-based digital sheet music retailer.

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Larry Barton, chief executive officer of Strang, talks about creating a strong culture at the Madison-based firm. 

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To become a Top Workplace, organizations instill in their team members a variety of values and approaches that keep their businesses thriving in the marketplace, their employees engaged and their communities strong.

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