Coordinating Steps to a Cancer Moonshot

By Kevin Conroy

When President Nixon signed the National Cancer Act, the goal was clear: a national commitment to cure cancer. And while major progress has been made during the last half century, cancer remains a leading cause of death. That’s why the Administration’s new national effort — the Cancer Moonshot — has left many wondering if significant progress is realistic.

The Cancer Moonshot goal of making a decade’s worth of progress in cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care in five years is both audacious and achievable. As the leader of a biotech company that earned FDA approval for an at-home colon cancer screening test, I have seen firsthand how innovation and collaboration among the private sector, government, and research institutions can make a real difference in bringing lifesaving screening tools to market — quickly.

As Vice President Biden said at last week’s Cancer Moonshot Summit, “Prevention can help save a lot more lives than anything else we can do.” This is why expanding access to innovative screening tools is imperative to reaching the Moonshot goal.

Take colon cancer, the second leading cause of cancer death among Americans. More than half of deaths related to colon cancer could be prevented through regular screenings.

But 23 million people avoid doctor-recommended screening. That means nearly 50,000 Americans will die this year from a disease that is largely preventable with early detection.

Our company started with a simple goal: play a role in helping eradicate colon cancer. Working collaboratively with an innovative team at Mayo Clinic, we created Cologuard, a patient-friendly colon cancer screening test. This test — along with others — are among the screening options an influential government panel recently recommended as a way to drastically increase the number of Americans getting screened. Cologuard is not only 94 percent sensitive for detecting colon cancer in Stages I and II, but is patient-friendly process ensures a high percentage of patients completed the screening. This presents an opportunity to follow the path of the Pap smear, which has nearly eradicated cervical cancer through consistently repeated screening.

Of course this is just one screening tool, for one kind of cancer. It’s not a cure, and it won’t stop colon cancer. But it is one critical tool to help reach the American Cancer Society’s goal of ensuring 80 percent of people being screened by 2018, which could prevent more than 200,000 deaths within a generation.

It will take a national effort to beat this disease. This begins with a coordinated effort across many different groups: private industry, public sector, doctors, researchers, patients and more. The Cancer Moonshot Summit may just be the first step. But it is a much needed one. And with each one, we get closer than ever to ending cancer as we know it.

Kevin Conroy is Chairman, President and CEO of Exact Sciences Corp., the Madison-Wisconsin based developer and manufacturer of Cologuard.

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