TUE AM News: Exact Sciences expanding cancer diagnostics capabilities with $190M acquisition; COVID cases continue to escalate amid omicron surge

— Exact Sciences says the $190 million acquisition of Marshfield-based PreventionGenetics will expand its cancer diagnostics capabilities. 

The move also sets up the Madison company’s entrance into the field of hereditary cancer testing, which focuses on detecting heritable genetic mutations that could increase the risk of developing certain cancers. 

“With our deep relationships in primary care and PreventionGenetics’ strong reputation among genetics specialists, Exact Sciences can help more people understand their inherited risk of cancer to catch it earlier and treat it more effectively,” Kevin Conroy, the company’s chairman and CEO, said in a statement. 

PreventionGenetics is a DNA testing laboratory that provides more than 5,000 genetic tests for “nearly all” clinically relevant genes, as well as whole genome sequencing services. Founded in 2004, the business currently employs 25 geneticists. Following the acquisition, Exact Sciences says it will look to expand hereditary cancer and genetic testing “throughout the U.S. and globally.” 

Meanwhile, Exact Sciences also recently announced a new exclusive license agreement with OncXerna Therapeutics, through which Exact will be able to offer the Massachusetts-based company’s gene expression lab services to customers. The Xerna TME Panel can help identify which patients might benefit from immunotherapies and other treatments using gene expression data and a machine learning program, a release shows. 

These results can help patients and their doctors who are “facing difficult therapy selection decisions,” the release shows. They can also be used by other pharmaceutical companies to select patients for therapeutic programs. Exact says it will offer the new panel as part of its comprehensive genetic sequencing test called GEM ExTra. 

Matt Franklin, general manager of precision oncology for Exact, says immunotherapy is becoming more important for cancer treatment. But he points to a “critical unmet need” for oncologists to be able to predict how patients will react to treatments before they begin. 

“The immunotherapy prediction ability of OncXerna’s Xerna TME Panel, coupled with the comprehensive profiling capabilities of Exact Sciences’ GEM ExTra test, has the potential to significantly impact patient outcomes,” he said. 

See the acquisition release: https://investor.exactsciences.com/investor-relations/press-releases/press-release-details/2022/Exact-Sciences-Acquires-PreventionGenetics-to-Accelerate-Availability-of-Hereditary-Cancer-Testing-for-More-Patients/default.aspx 

See the licensing agreement release: https://investor.exactsciences.com/investor-relations/press-releases/press-release-details/2022/Exact-Sciences-and-OncXerna-Announce-Licensing-Agreement-to-Help-Predict-Immunotherapy-Response-for-More-Patients/default.aspx 

— The seven-day average for new COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin has reached 9,063 cases per day, continuing the rapid escalation that began in late December. 

Rising case numbers caused by the ongoing omicron surge continue to strain hospitals in the state. The Wisconsin Hospital Association dashboard shows 2,259 COVID-19 patients are currently hospitalized, including 472 intensive care patients. Over the past seven days, those numbers have increased by 356 and 10, respectively. 

The Department of Health Services site shows many hospitals in the state continue to operate at peak capacity, though hospitalization rates aren’t uniform across the state. While hospitalizations in the state’s southeast region were rising by 28 percent between Dec. 22 and Jan. 4, and by 14 percent in the south central region over the same period, a decrease of 11 percent was seen in the northwest region. 

Meanwhile, DHS reports “no significant change” in hospitalizations was seen in the western, north central, Fox Valley and northeast regions. 

While COVID-19 deaths remain well below the levels seen during the last major surge in late 2020, the seven-day average for new deaths has increased in recent weeks after remaining relatively steady throughout much of September, October and November. It reached 26 deaths per day at latest count, and a total of 10,344 people in the state have died due to COVID-19. 

See the latest case numbers: https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/covid-19/cases.htm 

See the WHA site: https://www.wha.org/Covid-19Update 

See the hospital figures from DHS: https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/covid-19/hosp-data.htm 

— State health officials, hospitals and health systems in the state are urging people not to seek out COVID-19 tests at urgent care or emergency rooms as capacity is pushed to the brink. 

In a release yesterday, the Wisconsin Hospital Association noted emergency departments are experiencing “extreme stress” caused by the omicron variant of the virus “as well as regular, seasonal increases in demand” for medical services. 

“Patients seeking COVID-19 tests at hospitals not only delay the provision of urgent care in emergency rooms, but also raise the risk of virus spread among medically vulnerable patients,” the organization said in a statement.

WHA and DHS are asking state residents to instead contact their doctor to explore testing options at primary care clinics, seek testing from a free community testing site, or request a free at-home specimen collection kit directly from DHS. 

Traci DeSalvo, director of the agency’s Bureau of Communicable Diseases, says testing “remains a critical tool” to slow the spread of the virus. In a recent media briefing, she noted the at-home kits are available for free to state residents “regardless of symptoms or exposure.” 

“We know that at-home test kits may be in short supply right now, but pharmacies are restocking them as soon as they become available,” she said. 

Insurance companies and health plans will be required to cover the cost of eight over-the-counter at-home COVID-19 tests per covered person per month starting Saturday, under a policy announced yesterday by the Biden administration. 

See a release detailing the new requirement: https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2022/01/10/biden-harris-administration-requires-insurance-companies-group-health-plans-to-cover-cost-at-home-covid-19-tests-increasing-access-free-tests.html 

See how to request an at-home collection kit from DHS here: https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/covid-19/collection.htm 

See the WHA release: https://www.wispolitics.com/2022/wisconsin-hospital-association-urges-public-not-to-visit-emergency-rooms-for-covid-19-tests/ 

— The Port of Green Bay is urging “extreme caution” in the bay after dozens of people had to be rescued when a large chunk of ice separated from shore and drifted nearly a mile. 

The Associated Press reported Sunday that 27 people were rescued by authorities after about 90 minutes, many of which were ice fishing when the incident occurred. The sheriff’s office reportedly said a barge traveling through the bay may have caused the break. 

But the port in a release said the chunk of ice separating was a “direct result” of high winds blowing across the lower part of the bay. 

“The Port’s ability to handle petroleum products during January is a key piece in the current supply chain and important for the economy of Northeast Wisconsin,” Port Director Dean Haen said in the release. “For those using the bay for ice fishing, snowmobiling or ice boating, please stay clear of the shipping channel and other areas that could be dangerous.”

Because the Coast Guard waterway managers must “balance the needs of commercial operators moving cargo that fuels industry with those of recreational users,” the port says people choosing to go out on the ice “may potentially put themselves at increased risk when recreating near still-operational shipping lanes.” 

See more on the rescue in headlines below, and see the release here: https://www.wispolitics.com/2022/port-of-green-bay-extreme-caution-urged-on-the-bay-of-green-bay/ 

— A number of restaurants in Milwaukee and Madison have started requiring proof of vaccination to dine in.

“I think all options are open right now for restaurants,” Arthur Ircink, creator and executive producer of “Wisconsin Foodie,” said recently on WISN’s “UpFront,” produced in partnership with WisPolitics.com.

Ircink said the biggest challenge facing restaurants is a worker shortage. Host Adrienne Pederson asked whether a citywide vaccination mandate, like in places like Chicago and New York City, is a solution.

“That’s a tough question,” Ircink said. “If it was up to me, personally, I would love to see something like that happen. But I think the public is still kind of all over the place, and I would hate for the restaurant industry to lose business because of it.”

See more of the program: http://www.wisn.com/upfront


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– Wisconsin Farmers Union to hold 2022 convention virtually



– Lafayette County advances $51.5M hospital in Darlington


– 27 people rescued from floating ice chunk in Green Bay



– Catch your dinner on Takara Sushi Station’s conveyor belt



– Exact Sciences Corp. acquires Marshfield-based genetic testing lab for $190 million

– Children’s Wisconsin recruiting providers for new mental health walk-in clinic on Wauwatosa campus

– Dane County hits pandemic peak of COVID-19 hospitalizations


– Fox Valley hospitals at ‘breaking point,’ urge COVID-19 vaccinations, boosters



– Saputo said population in and around Franklin its ‘best chance’ to find hires for cheese plant


– Briggs & Stratton plans to close Germantown facility by April 1


– Dykema opening Milwaukee office with attorneys from Husch Blackwell


– Kohler Co. acquires New York-based Curtis Instruments


– Analysts: Wisconsin’s volatile frac sand industry has stabilized



– Paragon Development Systems acquired by Canadian company


<i>See these and other press releases: 

https://www.wisbusiness.com/press-releases/ </i>

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