Sending Cancer Packing

How logistics can help make or break product launches.

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. It doesn’t have to be that way.

A colonoscopy can detect the disease at an early, treatable stage. But because that traditional test is an invasive procedure, a third of all U.S. adults who should get tested don’t get screened.

Exact Sciences aims to change that with Cologuard®, the first FDA-approved, noninvasive stool-DNA test for the disease.

In a field where experts say the best test is the one that gets done, that’s huge news.

The secret of our success 

From the moment the FDA gave approval, the testing kits, warehoused in a UPS facility in Louisville, Ky., were quickly moved between patients and Exact Sciences Laboratories in Madison, Wis., via the UPS network.

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Colon cancer kills more Americans than it should. That’s the tragic truth. 

As demand grew for the test, the operation scaled. UPS helps a lot of healthcare companies choreograph their logistics.

But its partnership with Exact Sciences is unique.

Colon cancer kills more Americans than it should — including people I love. That’s the tragic truth.

Although it has survival rates north of 90 percent when detected and treated early, colon cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths among U.S. non-smokers.

[Also on Longitudes: Fighting Cancer with Innovation]

Confronting the uncomfortable

The conventional test for the disease, the colonoscopy, is an invasive, in-patient probe involving a part of the body that embarrasses a lot of people.

Prep time, anesthesia and time away from work add to the aversion to the conventional screening.

So while doctors recommend anyone without a family history or symptoms of the disease get a colonoscopy at age 50 and every 10 years after that, more than 20 million Americans remain untested.

Many others get tested just once.

Of the more than 80 million people in the U.S. for whom routine colorectal cancer screening is recommended, nearly half have not been screened according to current guidelines.

Since one in 20 U.S. adults will ultimately be diagnosed with colon cancer, millions of those people will go on to develop the disease.

The later the diagnosis, the grimmer the prognosis.

Our team at Exact Sciences, a Wisconsin-based molecular diagnostics company, works to change that bleak picture.

Our company, dedicated to the early diagnosis of some of the deadliest cancers, developed an accurate, non-invasive, patient friendly screening test called Cologuard® for the early detection of colorectal cancer and pre-cancerous polyps.

Approved by the FDA in 2014, Cologuard remains the only stool DNA-based, non-invasive colorectal cancer-screening test on the market. 

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The later the diagnosis, the grimmer the prognosis.

It works by searching for telltale genetic markers associated with the disease and its precursors.

The groundbreaking science behind the test belongs to Exact Sciences. The world-class logistics network that supports the company and its patients belongs to UPS.

Even before the FDA approved Cologuard, we knew we would have a distribution challenge on our hands once the test went to market.

The challenge was getting collection kits to patients in an easy, cost-effective way.

The typical method is to stock the doctor’s office with collection kits.

But there are 280,000 primary care physicians and probably 200,000 who are pretty active, so that approach would have created a massive inventory challenge for us.

We needed expertise in logistics and operations to distribute kits to patients or physicians.

Our core competency is developing and marketing new cancer detection technologies.

Logistics meets healthcare 

UPS has been supporting the healthcare industry – in traditional ways – for decades, transporting pharmaceuticals and medical devices around the globe.

But in recent years, it has begun to support the industry in some surprising ways as well, operating state-of-the-art, DEA-approved warehouses and fulfillment facilities at strategic locations around the globe staffed entirely by UPS employees.

Healthcare companies can outsource almost everything to UPS except the actual manufacturing of their products, reducing their inventory costs and freeing up working capital.

We sat down with UPS and explored all the operational challenges and burdens we’d identified. They just had a we-can-solve-this-with-you attitude.

Our mission was important to them. So we put our brains together, focusing not on who was going to make money, but on the problem itself. All the other attributes of a business relationship emerged.

[Also on Longitudes: Six Ways to Healthcare Supply Chain Success]

Here’s what we created with UPS:

When a doctor prescribes the test, a Cologuard kit is pulled from a UPS-run warehouse in Louisville, Ky., and transported via UPS Next Day Air to the patient’s home.

The patient provides a stool sample, reseals the kit and calls UPS, which picks it up and transports it, again, by Next Day Air, back to Exact Sciences’ Laboratory, where lab techs look for any signs in the stool of the telltale genetic material associated with cancerous and precancerous mutations.

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Choose a world-class company, like UPS, when a new product and people’s lives are on the line.

Physicians and patients have test results within a couple weeks.

UPS’s extensive knowledge of logistics is greater than we could ever develop internally.

It’s why you should choose a world-class company when a new product – and people’s lives – are on the line.

At Exact Sciences, we’re glad we did.goldbrown2


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Kevin Conroy is the Chairman and CEO of Exact Sciences, a molecular diagnostics company focused on the early detection and prevention of colon cancer.

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