Exact Sciences (EXAS) CEO Kevin Conroy stood in front of the audience at the annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference on Tuesday with good reason for confidence. After all, sales are booming for his company's Cologuard DNA screening test for colorectal cancer. Exact Sciences' stock nearly quadrupled in 2017.
However, the company's share price tumbled 11% the day before Conroy's presentation, after Exact Sciences' sneak peek at its 2017 fourth-quarter results didn't satisfy some investors. That didn't bother Conroy, though. He remained optimistic about Exact Sciences' future. Here are three slides from his presentation that paint the picture for why he could be right.
1. Need for additional colorectal screening
Conroy noted that colorectal cancer continues to be the second deadliest type of cancer in the United States. For at least the past nine years, he added, annual deaths from colorectal cancer have hovered around 50,000. The sad thing is that many of these deaths could have been prevented with early screening. And that's where Exact Sciences' opportunity lies.
This slide has become a staple of Exact Sciences' presentations. Colon cancer screening rates still remain well below the American Cancer Society's 2018 goal of 80%.
A big reason screening rates have been stagnant is that many people simply don't want to go through the inconvenience and hassle of a colonoscopy. Exact Sciences' Cologuard DNA test addresses those issues. Since the launch of Cologuard, around 4,300 early-stage cancers have been detected. That number could be much larger -- and probably will be in the future.
2. More sales staff should mean greater sales ahead
Cologuard sales continue to grow, but there are still many healthcare providers who aren't familiar with the DNA test. Conroy said Exact Sciences has a plan to help let more physicians know about Cologuard as well as encourage those who are already aware of the test to keep ordering. Part of that plan is to put more feet on the street.
Exact Sciences intends to increase its primary care sales force by around 40% in 2018. In addition, the company plans to double its inside sales force. Doing so should result in having more physicians who order Cologuard, and it should improve repeat orders from physicians who have ordered in the past.
On a related note, Exact Sciences is also continuing its extensive marketing strategy to increase patient and provider awareness of Cologuard. This strategy includes social and digital media outreach, a national TV campaign, and partnerships such as ones with the PGA Tour, the Green Bay Packers, and USA Today.
3. Potential for liquid biopsies
For now, Cologuard is the key for Exact Sciences' success. However, the company isn't sitting still. Conroy said the achievements with Cologuard help position Exact Sciences to "reimagine cancer diagnostics" and move forward into a new opportunity -- liquid biopsies.
A liquid biopsy uses a blood sample to detect cancer, ideally at a very early stage. Conroy's slide shows the huge market potential for liquid biopsies over the next 13 years. While there's no guarantee that Exact Sciences will capture a nice chunk of that market, Conroy sounded cautiously optimistic.
He pointed to the company's collaboration with the Mayo Clinic, one of the world's most prestigious medical organizations. This partnership has resulted in three study results so far that showed 90% or greater sensitivity and specificity in detecting cancer in liquid biopsies. Conroy maintained that Exact Sciences' approach gives it several inherent advantages, including low cost and quick turnaround.
Conroy didn't really give a lot of new information in his J.P. Morgan presentation. However, he didn't have to. I think the key takeaways from his message were that Exact Sciences still has tremendous opportunities for growth with Cologuard, a solid plan to achieve that growth, and a strategy for the future in expanding to other types of cancer.
Certainly, there are some weaknesses and threats that go along with Exact Sciences' strengths and opportunities. I continue to think, though, that the positives outweigh the negatives.
My view is that Cologuard will become increasingly popular for patients who aren't at high risk of colorectal cancer and don't want to undergo a colonoscopy. I believe that Exact Sciences' sales and marketing approach makes sense, including the ramp-up of the sales force. And I think the company has a decent shot at emerging as one of several leaders in the potentially massive liquid-biopsy market.
The stock could be somewhat volatile as a result of high expectations and an even higher valuation. Over the long run, though, I suspect that Exact Sciences will keep up its winning ways.