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$10 Million Grant from Exact Sciences To Support Stand up to Cancer Initiative

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Today Stand Up To Cancer® (SU2C) unveiled a collaborative initiative aimed at improving colorectal cancer screening, early detection and prevention across the United States. The transformative $10 million grant from Exact Sciences, a provider of cancer screening and diagnostic tests, will fund a colorectal cancer ‘Dream Team’ of researchers, as well as a comprehensive public awareness campaign to increase screenings.

The new Dream Team will be awarded in early 2021 and will identify communities near anchor institutions that serve minority and medically underserved communities, pinpoint the unique local needs of those areas and turn participating at-risk communities into “Stand Up To Cancer Zones” with high rates of colorectal cancer screening. The Dream Team will provide free colorectal cancer testing in the identified zones and will study samples collected via approved tests for colorectal cancer, including colonoscopy, CT colonography, flexible sigmoidoscopy, and at-home stool tests that analyze fecal DNA and/or blood. The research will aim to develop better approaches to colorectal cancer interception.

Fellowships for early-career investigators committed to studying health equity and disparities in colorectal cancer will also be funded. Public awareness campaigns will focus on medically underserved communities to increase awareness of the importance of colorectal cancer screening and early detection, and the availability of multiple effective screening options, such as traditional colonoscopy as well as options used at home.

“This funding allows us to bring together institutions, clinicians and communities to address the challenges we face in colorectal cancer screening,” said Nobel laureate Phillip A. Sharp, PhD, chair of Stand Up To Cancer’s Scientific Advisory Committee and an Institute professor at the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more important than ever to make sure people are informed about both the benefits of colorectal cancer screening and their options.”

“We’re excited to work with Stand Up To Cancer on this bold new initiative,” said Kevin Conroy, chairman and CEO of Exact Sciences. “We want to change the way people think about colorectal cancer screening. This collaboration will move cutting-edge research and education efforts forward so we can help more people.”

This year, nearly 148,000 Americans will receive a new diagnosis of colon or rectal cancer.[i] Colorectal cancer is treatable in 90% of cases when detected early,[ii] yet 1 in 3 adults over age 50 are not up-to-date on recommended colorectal cancer screening.[iii] The COVID-19 pandemic has further compounded the problem with screening rates dropping significantly due to stay-at-home orders. For example, the total number of colonoscopies and biopsies performed declined by nearly 90% by mid-April 2020 compared to April 2019.[iv] Concurrently, new cases of colorectal cancer are occurring at a growing rate among young and middle-aged adults in the US, with the number of cases of colorectal cancer in people under 50 expected to almost double by 2030.[v] The disease disproportionately impacts people of color; Black people have the highest rates of colorectal cancer of any racial or ethnic group in the US.[vi] In October 2020, the US Preventive Services Task Force released a draft recommendation to lower the colorectal cancer screening age from 50 to 45,[vii] but educating the public about the benefits of screening, as well as screening options, remains vital.

“We want people to understand that this disease is highly preventable and that a simple test can save lives,” said Sung Poblete, PhD, RN, CEO of Stand Up To Cancer. “When it comes to screening for colorectal cancer, the best test is the test that gets done. People will always benefit from simple and accessible healthcare options, and at-home preventive care is particularly vital to keeping people healthy during the pandemic. Together with Exact Sciences, we’re going to make this message mainstream and our hope is that other collaborators, such as healthcare providers, community leaders and advocacy groups, will join us in taking a stand against colorectal cancer.”

Research has shown that colorectal cancer screening rates are the lowest in Hispanic communities, with 59% of Hispanics getting screened, compared to 66% of Black people and 69% of white people getting screened.[viii] Black and Hispanic people are typically diagnosed at a later stage in the disease when it is more difficult to treat. These disparities could be driven by financial barriers, lack of insurance, existing health inequities and insufficient information about colorectal cancer and colorectal cancer screening options.

SU2C, along with Exact Sciences, plans to engage with other collaborators to help reach the underserved communities, foster scientific research and guide public participation. The multi-pronged approach intends to ensure that colorectal cancer remains a disease that is treatable and survivable through widespread screening and early detection.

SU2C announced a Health Equity Initiative in January 2020. The initiative requires all future teams seeking Stand Up To Cancer funding to address recruitment and retention of patients from different ethnic and racial groups and underserved communities to improve diverse participation in cancer clinical trials. The initiative also includes collaborations with advocacy groups and industry and corporate supporters to move research and public awareness efforts forward. The new grant from Exact Sciences is the next critical step in SU2C’s movement to ensure cancer research, screening and treatment benefit everyone.