Expert Discusses White House Meeting to Address Increasing Colorectal Cancer Screenings, Health Equity

Andrew Barnell, MBA, CEO and co-founder of Geneoscopy, discusses his meeting at the White House on President Biden’s Cancer Moonshot initiative.

Pharmacy Times interviewed Andrew Barnell, MBA, CEO and co-founder of Geneoscopy, on a meeting he attended at the White House regarding the need for increasing colorectal cancer screenings and health equity in colorectal cancer.

Alana Hippensteele: Hi, I’m Alana Hippensteele with Pharmacy Times, and joining me is Andrew Barnell, MBA, CEO and co-founder of Geneoscopy, who is here to discuss the key takeaways from a meeting with President Joe Biden that took place at the White House on July 25 to address the need for increasing colorectal cancer screenings and health equity in colorectal cancer, which is the nation’s number 2 cancer killer.

So, Andrew, what is the Cancer Moonshot that President Joe Biden announced plans to reignite? And what are its stated goals?

Andrew Barnell: Absolutely. Well, first, Alana, thank you so much for having me, really excited to be here. To touch a little bit on the goal, the moonshot, I think the mission is really quite broad, right? It's to accelerate the progress against cancer, and so that's quite broad. But I think there's a number of very tangible and ambitious goals as well, one of those being reduce cancer deaths by 50% over the next 25 years. That's obviously a very aggressive goal, but one that’s very important. There are a number of different things that go into that. Things like increasing screening rates to diagnose and detect cancer earlier, and if possible, actually prevent cancer. There’s addressing some of the major inequities associated with both colorectal cancer screening and treatment. I mean, if we don’t address some of those inequities, we’ll probably never solve the problem associated with colorectal cancer. This includes other things such as treatment, developing new treatments, and maybe even more importantly than that, getting the right treatment to the right patient. And then there's also the patient experience side. There's the education. There's the awareness. For folks that do end up getting diagnosed with cancer or colorectal cancer, it's ensuring that we can make it as comfortable as possible, whether that's during the treatment phase or in remission, and if it's going to come back, we catch it early. It's really the entire spectrum, all the way from screening of healthy individuals to treatment of patients, and there's things we can do across that entire spectrum to help achieve some of those big broad goals.

Alana Hippensteele: Right. Why is colorectal cancer screening in particular a disease state that needs to be addressed at a broader reaching level today?

Andrew Barnell: Colorectal cancer is the second deadliest cancer in the United States, and the fourth most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States. Over 150,000 individuals in the United States get colorectal cancer every year, and over 50,000 people die from colorectal cancer every single year. Just because of that, it makes it one of the most important to address. But I think it's even more important because of how preventable it is. Most estimates are that 60% of colorectal cancers could be prevented through better screening. So the combination of that really high disease burden with the fact that if we did a better job of screening, we could really eliminate the vast majority of those deaths, makes it a really important thing for us to focus on. When you think about those big broad goals I already mentioned, like reducing cancer deaths by 50% over the next 25 years, given how large of a disease burden there's colorectal cancer, and also how effectively we could prevent it, it really makes it one of the clearest areas to try to help drive outcomes versus those goals.

Alana Hippensteele: Right. What are the stakeholders involved in this initiative? And why did President Biden bring some of these stakeholders to the White House on July 25, 2022?

Andrew Barnell: I think that was one of the most interesting things about the summit: the diversity of the stakeholders included. It included colorectal cancer survivors, patient advocacy groups, business leaders of a number of different colorectal cancer screening and early detection companies, as well as representatives of OSTP, the White House, and then other federal agencies, such as NCI, HHS, the First Lady's office. I think the reason why you bring all those groups together is this is such a big, broad and complex problem that having all of the constituents from various aspects of the public side and the private side, I think bringing all those folks together is one of the strengths of the coalition and one of the things that I think will allow us to make real tangible progress in terms of solving some of these problems.

Alana Hippensteele: During this meeting with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, as well as some other stakeholders, as you mentioned, what were some of the key action items that were discussed?

Andrew Barnell: Absolutely. One of the big ones was just around how we can coordinate and amplify our messages. We're all out there doing messaging, awareness, education, and bringing together some of those efforts and making sure that they're coordinated. One of the things that we really did center around, March, which is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, is one of those big months where a lot of messaging happens, a lot of initiatives happen. We definitely have a plan to coordinate some of our activities and messaging next year.

And I think this is still in the early stages, but one of the things we really did spend a lot of time talking about was sort of the concept of public-private partnerships. There's a lot that's done on the public, the government side and a lot that's on the private side. Everyone really felt that working together, we have the opportunity to do more than the sum of the parts of what we're doing individually. So, early conversations around what those public-private partnerships might look like. I think the biggest outcome of the meeting was just everyone agreeing that this was only the first step. This is the first of a number of meetings to get more and more concrete about what our priorities are, what our proposals are, and really come up together with actionable next steps, which will happen in subsequent meetings.

Alana Hippensteele: Absolutely. During this meeting, what were some of your takeaways regarding the importance of this initiative and what it means to the parties in attendance?

Andrew Barnell: Absolutely. I think the really interesting thing was most of us don't just do this for the business piece, right? Most of us do this—I specifically chose to work in healthcare because of that double bottom line that not only can you build a great business, but you can help people, right? I think bringing together all of these diverse stakeholders, particularly business leaders, I think on a day-to-day basis most people would characterize many of the folks in the room as competitors. But I think what all of us coming together signify was that there is sort of a broader goal, a broader ideal that we're all striving towards, which is improve population health. In this embodiment, it's specifically getting more people screened for colorectal cancer, detecting the disease earlier, and reducing the number of deaths from colorectal cancer. I think it really speaks to the fact that there is a sort of broader mission that we all have, and I think everyone felt that by coming together, we could achieve that more effectively. And so, being in the meeting and feeling that sentiment around the room and having everyone be so supportive of that was something that was really nice.

Alana Hippensteele: Yeah, absolutely. That's beautiful. Any closing thoughts, Andrew?

Andrew Barnell: Yeah, absolutely. I'll maybe just touch on Geneoscopy just a little bit. As much as we're part of this broader coalition, we're also doing a number of things our own as a company to try to improve the paradigm for colorectal cancer screening. We started this company 6 years ago with the idea that we could develop better diagnostic tests for gastrointestinal health. Our first product, which is a colorectal cancer screening test, has shown in preclinical studies a significantly higher sensitivity for precancerous adenomas versus existing tests on the market today. There's ample data out there that shows that detection of precancerous adenomas is how you prevent colorectal cancer and how you drive better outcomes.

What we're really excited about is that test is in the middle of a pivotal study right now. We expect that to wrap up in the back half of this year, and we expect to be able to provide access to patients with that test next year. We're really excited about what we're doing as a company, what we can do ourselves to help get more people screened, diagnose more cancers early, prevent more cancers, and help alleviate the health burden associated with this disease. I'm really excited about what we're doing, really excited about the coalition that we're working on with the White House and the rest of those stakeholders, and really, really appreciate the time.

Photos Credited to Fight CRC