Illumina owned startup, Grail has announced that it is in the process of raising more than $1 billion in venture capital to invest in its cancer detection test and it split from its parent company.
If Grail succeeds in raising $1 billion in its second round of financing, this would for the first time put a biotech research based startup in the esteemed Unicorn club. The San Francisco based startup is working on early blood based detection tests for cancer. The new round of funding will be used to conduct large scale clinical trials to ensure it meets the stringent cancer screening requirements.
Combining high intensity sequencing to detect DNA shed by rapidly growing tumor cells is the whole idea behind the cancer detection test.
Decision to Split from Illumina
Grail, founded internally at Illumina in 2015 to investigate the effectiveness of detecting cancer via blood DNA more accurately and rapidly than any other method has enabled until now. Early investment of $100 came from billionaires Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and venture capital firm RCH Venture Partners.
The decision to split Grail makes sense for the $2.5 billion parent company to reduce and risk, since there are a long list of failed attempts trying to design tests to diagnose cancer. Illumina will still own 20% of Grail, providing state-of-the-art next-generation sequencing technologies and expertise. Aside from this the size of clinical trials necessary to validate such a test would put a serious strain on Illumina’s financials. Jeff Huber, the ex-Google employee with hands in many of its most successful projects, will potentially head the spun off company.
Large Scale Clinical Trials
With cancer being notoriously difficult to detect and no two cancer cell’s sharing the same mutations, Grail’s clinical trials will need to have a huge trial base and an advanced machine learning and predicting algorithm. Not to mention enough time for the dreadful early predictions to come true in test subjects, which could be one out of a hundred patient’s involved in the trial. Many potential tumors detected by the test could be eradicated by the body’s own mechanisms before they become cancerous, making it a bit more harder to say for certain if the tests are false positives or false negatives.
Other risks are set to come from FDA approvals and the recent phenomenal failure of Thanos, making matters a bit much worse. Thanos’ over publicized fall will make raising funds a bit much harder in a market where biotech companies already face hurdles in raising funds. Grail has so far not published any of the research behind the blood cancer detection tests. The biggest consolation is the impressive Scientific Advisory board behind Grail.