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Exact Sciences continues to grow

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MADISON, Wis. — Exact Sciences is working on several fronts in 2016: Expanding orders for its Cologuard test to screen for colorectal cancer; getting a building constructed to hold an expected surge in employees; and convincing a federal panel to upgrade its recommendation for use of Cologuard.

The Madison company dealt with a series of ups and downs in 2015, the first full year Cologuard was available to the public.

In late 2014, after federal regulators approved the use of Cologuard and Medicare said it would reimburse most of the cost, Exact was charged with getting the word out about its novel, noninvasive, DNA-based stool test.

By the close of 2015, more than 100,000 of the tests were expected to be completed. For 2016, Exact thinks it will more than double that, with 240,000 Cologuard tests to be completed, spokesman J.P. Fielder said.

"We are very optimistic about the year ahead and the number of tests that we (expect) to be completed," Fielder said. "We understand patients want this test and physicians continue to order this."

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Exact Sciences Corp. licensed technology from Mayo Clinic in 2009 and 2012 for Cologuard, a stool-based DNA test for colorectal cancer. The test is based on research by Mayo Clinic's Dr. David A. Ahlquist and his laboratory. Originally based in Boston, city officials at one point hoped Exact would move to Rochester. However, Madison gave the company $1 million to move its headquarters there in 2009.

Exact had planned to anchor a huge Downtown development, the $200 million Judge Doyle Square project, that would have involved a public investment of $46.7 million, or nearly one-fourth of the total price tag. Exact was promising to bring 400 jobs downtown.

Then an advisory panel, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, came out with a preliminary report in October listing Cologuard as an "alternative" choice for colon cancer screening, not one of the primary options. Exact stock plunged nearly 50 percent and opponents of the development raised an even more skeptical eye.

Exact pulled out of the Judge Doyle Square project saying it will build an addition onto one of its buildings at University Research Park instead. A timetable is not yet available.

Exact and its supporters have appealed to the task force to raise its recommendation. A final report by the panel is not expected until "late 2016," Fielder said.

In the meantime, the company continues to ramp up. Exact now has more than 700 employees, with 450 at its headquarters in University Research Park and labs in the town of Madison. The company hired 275 employees in 2015, Fielder said.

He would not project how much the staff will grow in 2016 but said about 50 positions in Madison are open now.

"I would say 2015 has been a strong year," Fielder said.

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