Sequential insights

How Grail is studying cfDNA from liquid biopsies to screen for cancer

After showing it can detect both occult and late-stage cancers, Grail Inc. is now ready to tackle developing its first cancer screening assay. The company has begun clinical studies that will help it build and test assays to address shortcomings in established screening protocols for individual cancers, with the eventual goal of creating a pan-cancer assay.

When Illumina Inc. launched Grail and led its $100 million series A round in January 2016, the sequencing company’s then CEO and current executive chairman, Jay Flatley, described an ambitious plan to use deep sequencing technology to develop and market a pan-cancer screening test within just three years.

The spinout grew out of the unexpected finding that Illumina’s verifi prenatal test, a cell-free DNA (cfDNA) assay, could detect signals of occult cancers in pregnant women. This was revealed after Illumina saw that some apparently healthy women who had unexplained abnormal cfDNA patterns in their test results were later diagnosed with cancer.

That finding was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2015.

By the time of the biotech’s record-setting B round, which had a first close of $900 million in March, Flatley was describing a more staged approach that could start with a tumor-specific test launching as early as 2020.

The B round was targeting $1 billion. Grail has since reported

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