Illumina Inc, San Diego, has opened a new company called Grail, formed to enable cancer screening from a simple blood test. Powered by Illumina sequencing technology, Grail will develop a pan-cancer screening test by directly measuring circulating nucleic acids in blood.
Launched as a separate company with majority ownership by Illumina. Grail is initially funded by more than $100 million in Series A financing from Illumina and Arch Venture Partners, with participating investments from Bezos Expeditions, Bill Gates, and Sutter Hill Ventures. Grail seeks to capitalize on its relationship with Illumina, hoping to create a screening test with the required sensitivity and a level of specificity never before achievable for cancer screening.
“We hope today is a turning point in the war on cancer,” says Jay Flatley, CEO of Illumina and chairman of the new company. “By enabling the early detection of cancer in asymptomatic individuals through a simple blood screen, we aim to massively decrease cancer mortality by detecting the disease at a curable stage.”
“The holy grail in oncology has been the search for biomarkers that could reliably signal the presence of cancer at an early stage,” says Richard Klausner, MD, formerly chief medical officer at Illumina and director of the National Cancer Institute, and now a director of Grail. “Illumina’s sequencing technology now allows the detection of circulating nucleic acids originating in the cancer cells themselves, a superior approach that provides a direct rather than surrogate measurement.”
“Grail’s rigorous, science-based approach with leading medical and policy advisers worldwide is unprecedented in the fight to defeat cancer,” says Robert Nelsen, managing director and cofounder of Arch Venture Partners and a director of Grail.
Grail has secured the counsel of industry and cancer experts for the company’s advisory board, which will include Klausner along with José Baselga, MD, PhD, physician in chief at Memorial Sloan Kettering and president of the American Association of Cancer Research; Donald A. Berry, PhD, professor of biostatistics at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center; Timothy Church, professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health; Brian J. Druker, MD, director of the Oregon Health and Science University Knight Cancer Institute; Mostafa Ronaghi, PhD, senior vice president and chief technology officer at Illumina; and Charles Swanton, PhD, group leader at the Francis Crick Institute.
The company will initially have a five-member board of directors, including Flatley, Klausner, and Nelsen, along with William Rastetter, chairman of Illumina; and the CEO, whom the company is actively recruiting.
For more information, visit Grail.