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Grail hopes to beat cancer with DNA tests

cancer cell

The gene sequencing company Illumina has created a new company that is trying to invent a blood test that could hopefully find all cancers in their early stages.

A key part of helping more patients survive cancer is finding new ways to catch cancer sooner, so doctors can treat it before it has time to spread. Catching cancer early is a great challenge, but a new way to detect it in the blood may totally revolutionize cancer treatment.

A crucial boost

The blood test does not yet exist but this new company, called Grail, have  a number of illustrious scientists involved and backing from Illumina which gives it a crucial boost. The company hopes to have a pan-cancer blood test by 2019. The test would mean that anyone could add such a test onto their annual physical – no need for separate tests for different types of cancers.

The company is launching with $100 million in Series A financing, backed by Illumina, Bill Gates, Sutter Hill Ventures and Jeff Bezos’ Bezos Expeditions.

Circulating tumor DNA

The key to this effort is the ability to detect what’s known as circulating tumor DNA, or CTDNA. Doctors have discovered in recent years that genetic material from cancerous tumors starts circulating in our bodies. Grail plans on following hundreds of thousands of patients over the next few years and try to see if they can detect CTDNA in those patients whenever they develop cancer.

A minefield

The company enters a minefield however. An earlier effort by another company to create “liquid biopsy” for cancer was greeted in September by a stern letter from the FDA warning that the agency had “not found any published evidence that this test or any similar test has been clinically validated as a screening tool for early detection of cancer in high risk individuals”. Doing something like this also comes with the risk of overdiagnosis.

If the trial show the test can detect stage 2 cancer, the market value could be from $20 to $40 billion. If it can accurately identify stage 1 cancer that would mean a $100 billion value, according to Jay Flately, Illumina CEO.

Source: Tech Insider