COO Maneesh Arora Leaving Exact Sciences; More Earnings Call Tidbits

Xconomy Wisconsin — 

Exact Sciences has made several additions to its leadership team in the past 18 months, but on Thursday the Madison, WI-based cancer test developer announced a key upcoming departure. Maneesh Arora, who has been Exact’s (NASDAQ: EXAS) chief operating officer since 2012, will leave the company at the end of the year, CEO and president Kevin Conroy said in a conference call with analysts Thursday.

“There would be no Cologuard today without Maneesh,” Conroy said, according to a transcript of the call on the stock market website Seeking Alpha. Cologuard, a stool-based screening test for colorectal cancer, is Exact’s flagship product. The test has been used to screen more than 1 million people for the disease since 2014, the company said in February.

Neither Conroy nor Arora, who also answered questions from analysts during Thursday’s call, said what Arora plans to do after he leaves Exact.

Conroy said “we don’t anticipate bringing in a chief operating officer at this point,” and didn’t provide a timeline for hiring a new COO.

“Who knows what the future holds?” Conroy asked rhetorically.

JP Fielder, Exact’s senior director of corporate communications, said in an e-mail that the company may elect to let the COO position remain vacant after Arora departs.

Arora’s decision to leave the company was voluntary, Fielder said.

Arora had also for years held a seat on Exact’s board of directors, but left the board earlier this month, Fielder said.

Arora joined Exact in April 2009 as vice president and chief financial officer. The company also hired Conroy at that time; the two had previously helped steer Madison-based Third Wave Technologies to a $580 million acquisition by Bedford, MA-based Hologic (NASDAQ: HOLX). Aided by a $1 million loan from the state of Wisconsin, Exact moved operations from greater Boston to Madison in late 2009.

Arora earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Chicago in 1990 and an MBA from Northwestern in 2000, according to his LinkedIn profile. In his remaining time at Exact, Arora will focus on advancing some of the tests in Exact’s development pipeline, which include diagnostics for lung cancer and liver cancer, Conroy said.

Some other highlights from Exact’s first-quarter earnings report, which elicited a generally favorable reaction from investors on Thursday and Friday:

—Exact continues to add laboratory space and increase its test-processing capacity. The company can now process 2 million Cologuard tests per year, Conroy said, double what its capacity was in November. He said he expects Exact’s capacity to increase to 3 million Cologuard tests annually by the end of the year, and 5 million tests by the end of 2019.

—In January, Exact announced plans to increase its sales force from 350 employees to about 550 in 2018. On Thursday, Conroy said his company expects it will have hired all 200 of the new salespeople by the end of September.

—Exact reported a net loss of $39.4 million in the three-month period ending March 31, which was higher than its $34.9 million loss in the same period a year ago. The company’s loss widened despite its quarterly revenue increasing 87 percent year-over-year, to $90.3 million. One factor that likely contributed to the wider loss was that Exact’s first-quarter operating expenses were $103.9 million, up from $66.9 million in the first quarter of 2017. Sales and marketing expenses ($53.4 million) made up more than half of this year’s first-quarter total, compared with $38.8 million in the same period last year.