‘We just want to do our part’: Exact Sciences begins COVID-19 testing

Exact Sciences, Promega part of public-private partnership to increase testing capacity

MADISON, Wis. – In addition to its Cologuard services, Exact Sciences in Madison is taking on a new function, running tests for COVID-19.

Area companies and health systems are partnering with the state to meet the increased demand for coronavirus testing.

Before Monday, the State Hygiene Lab and the Milwaukee Public Health Lab led the Wisconsin Clinical Lab Network in testing, but Exact Sciences CEO Kevin Conroy said it was unrealistic to expect them to be able to keep up with the need.

“Like most of America, we expected normal life would continue,” Conroy said. “Obviously, there’s nothing normal about life now, so we just want to do our part.”

The cancer detection company is doing so by using its equipment to identify the virus. Employees, still practicing social distancing, began Monday.

“We are taking this from our Cologuard capacity, helping to bring it up for COVID capacity,” Conroy said.

They’re one of a number of entities included in the newly announced public-private partnership with the state, including UW Health, Marshfield Clinic Health System and Promega.

Promega, a biotech company with a location in Fitchburg, manufactures assays and reagents used in COVID testing — like “ingredients” that make up the test.

“Frankly, this is what we always do,” said Sara Mann, the general manager of Promega’s North America Branch. “When we heard about some of the outbreaks in China, we’ve been scaling up the last three months. We knew this was going to probably expand.”

Promega’s testing elements are part of the process at labs including Exact Sciences.

“It’s really coming together as one group that can solve this big challenge,” Conroy said.

The Governor’s Office expects the public-private partnership will double testing capacity. According to a release from the office, the Wisconsin Clinical Lab Network averaged 1,500 to 2,000 tests a day.

Conroy said he thinks Exact Sciences may be able to do more than that.

“We eventually hope to be able to do 5,000 to 10,000 tests per day,” he said, adding that collaboration is key.

“It takes people, it takes great science and it takes incredible equipment and engineering and software,” Conroy said. “We can do this all here in the state of Wisconsin.”