Quidel Aims for a Piece of the Colorectal Cancer Screening Market

No matter how many times Katie Couric reminds folks that detecting colon cancer early can be a lifesaver, most people are pretty squeamish about the tests involved—not only the invasive ones like colonoscopy but even the less-invasive ones like those that look for traces of blood in the stool.

So I was intrigued to hear San Diego-based Quidel (NASDAQ: QDEL) tell the story about how it’s trying to enter the market for less-invasive tests with a product that might make the testing process a little easier to stomach. I met with chief financial officer John Radak to hear about the company’s growth strategy to move beyond its bread-and-butter marketed tests for pregnancy, flu, and strep throat.

This is where colorectal cancer enters the picture. More than 108,000 people in the U.S. are estimated to get this disease each year, making it the nation’s third most common malignancy behind lung and prostate cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. The organization recommends that the 91 million Americans over the age of 50 get screened for colorectal cancer, and one option for doing this is undergoing annual testing for blood in the stool, which can be an early sign of colorectal cancer. Quidel thinks it can capture a tidy portion of that market, and turn it into a corporate growth engine.

“We think we can give you an early indication of colorectal cancer,” Radak says.

Notice he didn’t say this offers a rock-solid definitive diagnosis. Colonoscopy is considered the gold standard for accuracy, because it uses a tiny camera mounted on a tube to actually look inside the colon and possibly take a biopsy of any suspicious tissue. But this is obviously a little uncomfortable, and carries the risk of overlooking flat polyps in the colon, or even puncturing the bowel, Radak says. So when he said, “This screen is not a replacement for colonoscopy,” you can understand how this was a bit of a letdown. But given that many people simply refuse colonoscopy or don’t have access to it, there is a viable market for screening tests like Quidel’s.

Quidel’s test isn’t one of those whiz-bang molecular diagnostics that I sometimes hear about in development, that are supposed to detect trace amounts of DNA … Next Page »

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