In a renewed bid to defeat cancer, Illumina is proposing to float a new startup Grail which will detect cancer via diagnostic blood tests. With Grail, it will cost less than $1,000 to test for cancer cells and detect cancer tumors before patients notice any symptoms.
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San Diego-based Illumina aims to market the blood tests by 2019 – and doctors’ offices or network of diagnostic centers will offer the tests at the given time. Grail will be based in San Francisco, and Illumina revealed the startup has raised over $100 million from its parent company and also from donor such as Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos’s venture fund, Bezos Expeditions, and Arch Venture Partners.
Grail will be using the concept of “liquid biopsy” to test for cancer, and this entails the use of high-speed DNA sequencing machines to analyze a patient’s blood for DNA fragments released by cancer cells. This test will reveal the growing presence of a cancer tumor even when it is still too small to generate any symptoms or to be captured by an imaging machine.
This particular blood test for cancer will work to detect many types of cancers and will facilitate the early detection of cancer tumors which can be cured with radiation or minimal surgery.
Developing an effective cancer screening test is very difficult because there could be wrong results, and wrong diagnosis could make a patient spend thousands of dollars for a cancer that is not capable of killing them.
“The hardest part is not only demonstrating the ability to detect cancer early, but being able to say this knowledge is in fact meaningful in terms of patient outcomes,” says J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society. “I can’t tell you how many times we’ve said, ‘Oh, all we have to do is find every cancer early and we would solve the problem.’”
CEO of Illumina, Jay Flatley, disclosed that Grail will be spending millions of dollars to put up several clinical trials with as many as 30,000 participants – where only Illumina is believed to have the sequencing technology under an affordable basis to study and market DNA blood tests for cancer.
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“In this case, we didn’t think the market could do it fast enough, unless we destroyed our [business] by giving away sequencing,” said Flatley. “We don’t think anyone else can do it at scale. And there are millions of lives at stake.”