Exact Sciences starts to see payoff from Pfizer marketing tie-up

Exact Sciences has begun to reap the benefits since it kicked off a sales and marketing partnership with Pfizer late last year to help promote its Cologuard test. The company is now going on the offensive to meet its lofty market-share goals.

Nearly 14,000 doctors put in their first prescriptions for the at-home colorectal cancer screening package in the first quarter of 2019. That tracks with the previous quarter’s 15,000 initial orders—big boosts versus the company’s historical, pre-Pfizer trend of about 10,000 additions per quarter.

"The strong start to 2019 gives us confidence our investments in people, facilities and partnerships will help us achieve our goal of screening at least 40% of the eligible U.S. population with Cologuard," Exact Sciences Chairman and CEO Kevin Conroy said in a statement.

Compared to last year’s first quarter, both the company’s revenues and its total test volume were up 79%, with 334,000 tests bringing in about $162 million.

But that comes with drawbacks: Exact Sciences’ operating expenses were also up 80%, to $187 million—alongside a larger total net loss of $83.1 million, or $0.66 per share, compared to last year’s first-quarter loss of $39.4 million, or $0.33 per share.

That includes investments in increasing its laboratory capacity, set to come online in the third quarter of this year, as well as a more than doubling of its R&D expenses as it continues to develop blood-based tests for other cancers, including in the liver through a collaboration with the Mayo Clinic.

Still, the company expects revenues to climb through the year, and it increased its previous guidance for 2019 from a range of $710 million to $730 million up to a projection of $725 million to $740 million. Its stock price largely held steady at about $98.60 following the news, with less than a percent change after the markets opened Wednesday morning.  

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To help power the company towards its market-capture goals of a 40% share in colorectal cancer screening—a little far from the 4.6% it estimated this quarter—Exact Sciences is also hoping to expand the use of its test to younger populations.

It recently submitted an application to the FDA to lower the age on its Cologuard label to include people between 45 and 49—an age group, the company says, that represents 10% of the total years of life lost following a colorectal cancer diagnosis during that time.

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Through its three-year partnership with Pfizer, first announced last August, Exact Sciences signed on to spend at least $80 million per year on marketing and promoting its stool DNA test, while matching the Big Pharma’s planned expenses dollar-for-dollar.

Pfizer, meanwhile, committed to spend a total of about $70 million through the end of 2021, while lending the company its sales representatives and their in-roads to provider networks and health systems.

Pfizer launched its women’s health field force of Cologuard-trained sales reps in January and has helped bring in about 5,000 OB/GYNs since then, according to Exact Sciences, which estimates that about 25% of the patients seen by the 30,000 OB/GYNs in the U.S. are over the age of 50.

The two companies are also putting together a sales force aimed at gastroenterologists, which they expect to begin work in the third quarter.