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Jenn Higgins was going to be a surgeon. She had it all mapped out. But during her sophomore year as a biology major at a small liberal arts college, she started doubting herself. That’s when a mentor posed an important question. Did Higgins want to help one patient at a time or affect change on a larger scale?
She realized that working in health policy and public health would more broadly align with all her interests, and that drove Higgins to create her own interdisciplinary major in Health Economics and Management. Now, she is the vice president of public affairs at Guardant Health.
Guardant’s blood tests and other products help healthcare providers and patients detect and manage cancer across all stages of the disease, including at its earliest when it’s most treatable, to drive early detection and better outcomes. The leading precision oncology company became the first to achieve FDA approval for a blood test for complete genomic testing. In her role, Higgins directs the government and public affairs function.
One important part of Higgins’s job lies in her ability to tell Guardant’s story on Capitol Hill and in state houses across the nation. It’s a skill she developed through many key positions before joining the company in 2019. In Higgins’ first job, an analyst at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, she compiled and sent industry updates to all 535 members of the US Congress.
Later in her career, Higgins spent time at a healthcare consulting firm, studying complex healthcare policies and researched the best practices of the top hospitals in the nation. She then worked for various firms advising clients about the legislative risks in the healthcare sector, simultaneously deepening her knowledge of all related policy and regulatory matters. “The speed of change is intense when it comes to healthcare in our nation, and it’s critical to stay on top of every development,” she says.
After working as a multiclient lobbyist for clients in pharmaceuticals, medical device companies, and small startup companies, Higgins had built trusted relationships with lawmakers and industry executives, alike. Guardant’s strong leadership team and clear mission compelled her to join and advocate for not the only organization, but the patients it serves.
“We want to conquer cancer with data, and I came here for the chance to build something special,” she explains. “That, and also help Guardant Health create impact as a thought leader in the world of precision medicine.” Through precision oncology, tests that detect cancer and inform treatment, Guardant is transforming cancer care with a personalized, data-driven approach. Soon, the organization hopes to help healthy individuals screen for cancer before symptoms even appear.
Once Jenn Higgins understood the Guardant mission and supporting science, she set out to build on and improve her relationships with members of state and federal legislative bodies. “I knew I could use my public policy background to help our company and fight on behalf of patients, doctors, and families about the issues that matter most to them,” she says.
Higgins’s work became about more than strictly government affairs. “It’s about how we think about and frame issues as part of a broader narrative we are driving company,” she explains. In addition to government affairs, Guardant has a strong corporate communications cadre and established a patient advocacy unit serving as ambassadors to the patient community. Team members work closely with patient groups regarding the company’s products and needed support.
Today, Guardant’s products have the potential to serve about 700,000 advanced cancer patients, 15 million early-stage patients and survivors, and 100 million patients eligible for colorectal cancer screenings. Main products include liquid biopsy and early detection tests.
Higgins collaborates with policymakers to expand that opportunity to more patients. She’s also ensuring healthcare providers understand that comprehensive genomic profiling and early detection not only saves lives, but also reduces costs.
In early 2022, President Biden reignited the Cancer Moonshot initiative to “end cancer as we know it.” The plan calls for individuals, corporations, and government bodies to unite, accelerate discoveries, foster collaboration, and streamline data sharing. Higgins and her participating colleagues hope to increase the cancer screening numbers in the post-COVID environment.
Recently, they have laser-focused on colorectal cancer testing. “Nearly seventy percent of Americans would prefer a blood test to a colonoscopy. We believe many more people would get screened if they could use a blood test. That could save lives. We have one,” Higgins says, adding her desire of raising awareness and providing patient access to these tests as quickly as possible.
As Higgins pursues these and other important goals, she also works overtime to support women in her field. “I always had male mentors, because there weren’t enough women in leadership positions in my field,” she says. “I want to help get women elected, and also empower them to thrive in the corporate setting,” she says. Higgins does this on both a formal and informal basis, often by inviting other women to experience working on her teams at Guardant.
A valuable opportunity, considering the company’s recent growth and positive changes. Jenn Higgins, herself, witnessed the company expand from 450 to over 1,500 employees globally, and it only continues to evolve and scale. In June of 2022, the company completed the purchase of Guardant Health AMEA, gaining full control of operations across Asia, Middle East, and Africa. Needless to say, it’s an exciting and important time—one greatly impacted by public affairs and Higgin’s oversight from her seat at the table.
The Messina Group congratulates Jenn Higgins for this well-deserved recognition as a leader and trailblazer in healthcare. We are proud to partner with industry experts and organizations like Jenn and Guardant Health that strive to challenge the status quo and save lives.