Beating CRC, one test at a time — Exact Sciences' Mark Stenhouse stumps for Cologuard

Mark Stenhouse left his executive role at AbbVie to join Exact Sciences because he felt the company was fighting a worthy battle: preventing colorectal cancer.

Mr. Stenhouse, now Exact Science's Cologuard president, spoke to Becker's ASC Review about his decision to join Exact and his plans to make Cologuard the market-leading noninvasive CRC screening test.

Question: Why did you join Exact Sciences?

Mark Stenhouse: This was actually a very easy decision. Exact Sciences' mission to improve the early detection of CRC is critical, given the large population of unscreened people and the very high survival rate with early detection.

Secondly, Exact Sciences has a unique culture. It is a highly collaborative environment where everyone believes in the mission and works extraordinarily hard to make an impact on human health. This is an incredible opportunity to not only shape the Cologuard brand but to work with a distinguished team.

Q: With your recent appointment, what will you bring to Exact and Cologuard in particular?

MS: I am going to zero in on commercial strategy that will drive customer reorder rates, health system adoption and Cologuard compliance. I will be working to build the brand by optimizing all our channels, which is what I did when I was at AbbVie, and responsible for expanding the market for Humira, the company's best-selling anti-inflammatory drug that had global sales of more than $18 billion [in 2017].

Q: Exact CEO Kevin Conroy has spoken at length about making Cologuard the No. 1 option when it comes to noninvasive CRC testing. How will you accomplish this?

MS: I see two primary opportunities here. First, we need a deeper understanding of physician behaviors and beliefs specific to Cologuard to ensure they reorder the test. We simply need to get this large population of prescription writers to reorder on a consistent basis.

Secondly, while compliance with Cologuard is higher than with other recommended CRC screening options, there is still room for improvement. Even when patients decide to use Cologuard, some don't return their kits in a timely fashion. So, we need to better understand the patient journey in order to improve compliance rates.

Cologuard is a highly sensitive and specific product with widespread payer coverage and is recommended by major colorectal cancer screening guidelines and quality measures. Our ability to communicate this to a population of patients and prescribers is what ultimately will influence behavior.

Q: With several companies developing blood-based CRC detection tests, how will Exact stay ahead of the game?

MS: We are watching this space closely, both in terms of the competitive landscape as well as with our own internal programs that seek to develop a blood test for CRC. While the space has had a lot of development in recent years, there really is nothing in the near-term that demonstrates an advance beyond what Cologuard offers. We will continue to differentiate our value in the market relative to colonoscopy and the fecal occult blood test to make sure we optimize Cologuard so that it has long-term value for patients, providers and payers.

Q: What's one thing you'd want "still on the fence" physicians to know about Cologuard?

MS: What frustrates me most about this space is that there has been very little improvement in CRC screening rates over the last decade. Approximately 60 percent of people eligible for screening are getting screened – and we lose 50,000 people a year to colorectal cancer. Healthcare providers should be obligated to offer Cologuard since so many people don't get screened for what essentially is a preventable cancer. Cologuard is highly sensitive, easy-to-use, and helps solve the underlying societal problem of unnecessary deaths from colorectal cancer.

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