In January of 2016, gene-sequencing giant Illumina created Grail, a startup focused on raising money to develop a blood test that screens for cancer and works proactively. Recent pharma news reports say the startup has reached an amount greater than $900 million, and is pulling in some of the biggest players in the tech, healthcare, and pharmaceutical industries. Some of the original funders of Grail include Bill Gates, Google Ventures, and other Silicon Valley investors.
Some of the names of the big players include Amazon, Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Varian Medical Systems, and Johnson & Johnson Innovation. Grail said in a press release that in its series B round with life sciences institutional investors, after close, it expects funding of more than $1 billion.
Grail’s plan involves using a single sample of blood to sequence and screen for tiny bits of cancer DNA that, while currently undetectable, would be identified in the screening which is taken through a blood draw similar to those used to check blood-sugar or cholesterol levels. The goal is to help identify cancer in its early stage, before it develops into a more serious issue. Another startup, Freenome, is also working to develop a blood test for cancer screening. News reports claim if either of the companies succeed, it would be a first in proactive blood tests screening to detect cancer.
Based in San Francisco, Grail will have the funding necessary to develop its products and begin large-scale trials essential to demonstrate the strict performance requirements of a blood test to screen for cancer, according to Chairman, Jay Flatley, who is also Executive Chairman of Illumina. The $1 billion raised in the company’s second financing round would place Grail in the company of such well-known tech names as AirBnb, Facebook, and Uber.
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