January 04, 2019

How We’ll Outsmart Cancer in 2019

 Imagine a world without cancer. It’s something I consider regularly: how can we celebrate more tomorrows and get ahead of a disease that cuts short the lives of more than 600,000 Americans annually.

As we welcome a new year, I’m hopeful we will begin winning the fight against cancer by detecting it earlier. Three areas of focus will help us achieve this goal:

1. New Discoveries Through Industry Investment

Progress in cancer detection and treatment requires continued investment in research and innovative technology from the public and private sector. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) is investing more than $5.5 billion in cancer research in 2019, that’s still not enough. NCI has seen a 46% increase in grant applications since 2013, while budgets increased only modestly since then, as a result, securing funding is more and more competitive: only 12% of requests were granted in 2017. 

This is where private partners and industry need to step up. Exact Sciences and Mayo Clinic are collaborating to identify the most common cancer biomarkers—genes with methylation changes that are associated with cancer. Those DNA methylation changes, which are predominantly in the promoter region of genes, are identified using whole methylome sequencing at Mayo Clinic. This is a large and necessary undertaking, if significant advances in detecting cancer earlier are to become reality.

2. Cracking the Cancer Code Through Liquid Biopsy

Advances in science and technology are starting to connect the clues DNA can provide, notably in our blood. It’s through liquid biopsy tests—a key focus of Exact Sciences’ research and development—that we can analyze the clues related to cancer that DNA leaves in the blood.

If done right, liquid biopsy-based testing may provide patients and healthcare providers with an accurate and convenient test that could transform the current cancer detection standards. Not only could it help us detect cancer earlier, blood-based testing could save money, time and potential complications from invasive biopsies or surgery.

The challenge is to extract usable information from DNA in blood that becomes the basis of a test. Combining liquid biopsy technology with Exact Sciences’ biomarker database puts us at the forefront of accurately detecting even minute traces of circulating tumor DNA in blood. We are currently exploring its use in liver cancer, the fastest growing cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. Initial biomarker data is promising, and we are enrolling patients to see how the data holds up in larger trials.

3. Putting the Patient First

With researchers and clinicians at Mayo Clinic, we have made significant progress uncovering the science behind cancer. However, our challenge is more than mastering the science, it’s also about the patient. A test is only effective if compliance, adherence and accessibility are on par with its accuracy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last year that despite concerted public health efforts and more insurance coverage, Americans still are not meeting targets for cancer screening. Unfortunately, this is not surprising given some obstacles patients must overcome to get screened.

DNA testing has gone mainstream thanks to the introduction of at-home tests that reveal ancestry and other genome secrets. The tools are enjoying widespread acceptance because they are not only effective, they are also simple. We need more and better cancer detection tests that are accurate, non-invasive, affordable and convenient. These are all things a DNA-based screening test can deliver.

Further, as a company, we know we can’t be passive about assisting patients in the screening process. Exact Sciences Laboratories is committed to supporting patients with reminders, multi-language support and assistance with insurance issues. This makes patients more likely to complete routine tests, enabling us to detect cancers much earlier, when there is the best opportunity for treatment.

To develop life-changing innovations, we are relentless in leveraging the right science, the right technology and the right process for every challenge. While investment in treatment is equally important, we have a better chance to outsmart cancer if we detect it earlier.