Exact Sciences joins forces with MD Anderson for lung cancer Dx development

Exact Sciences ($EXAS) is teaming up with the MD Anderson Cancer Center to develop a blood-based diagnostic for lung cancer, looking to expand its offerings past its innovative colorectal cancer screening test and gain some ground in a rapidly growing market.

The Madison, WI-based company will work with MD Anderson to create a lung cancer screening test that helps decide which patients need low-dose computed tomography (LDCT), and a tool that determines whether nodules found through LDCT are malignant. Lung cancer will cause an estimated 158,040 deaths in the U.S. this year, and more than half of cases are diagnosed at an advanced stage after symptoms appear, according to data from the American Cancer Society cited by Exact. Products developed through Exact and MD Anderson's collaboration could catch the disease sooner, improving survival rates for patients.

"Lung cancer is, and will continue to be, America's leading cancer killer unless we identify new approaches to diagnose it early, at its most treatable stages," Dr. Sam Hanash, director of MD Anderson's Red and Charline McCombs Institute for the Early Detection and Treatment of Cancer, said in a statement. "Our collaboration with Exact Sciences provides a great opportunity to create tests that could shift the lung cancer detection paradigm for the benefit of patients."

The partnership also gives Exact a chance to shift gears and build out its portfolio. The company has not wasted any time developing its stool-based DNA test for colorectal cancer, Cologuard, since winning FDA approval for the product last August. In October, Exact snagged Medicare coverage for its test, giving it access to 50 million patients. The company said more than 4,000 of its Cologuard tests were completed in 2014.

Exact Sciences CEO Kevin Conroy

But Exact hit a speed bump in December, when insurance giants Aetna and UnitedHealth ($UNH) decided not to cover the product. Still, the company said it would forge ahead with ambitious growth plans in 2015, striking deals with payers and beefing up its sales team to expand Cologuard's reach. And at least so far, Exact's hard work seems to be paying off. In March, the company nabbed coverage for Cologuard from Aetna ($AET) and Anthem ($ANTM), making the test available for more than half a million patients.

"Taking on lung cancer offers an opportunity to build on the success of Cologuard," Exact Sciences CEO Kevin Conroy said in a statement. "A simple blood test to complement a LDCT scan could significantly improve early-stage lung cancer detection. Our experience working with regulators and insurers coupled with MD Anderson's world-class research and development capabilities are an ideal match to make a meaningful difference in the war on cancer."

- read the statement

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