Pan-cancer screening takes priority with Illumina’s largest biotech investment, creates start-up with partners Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates
While the startup world closes in on bringing “liquid biopsies” to market for patients already diagnosed with cancer, a new screen for those without any symptoms is be a new reality. If San Diego-based Illumina and their powerful partners have a say, catching cancer with enough time to effectively treat it may cost under $1,000 by 2019.
Illumina, the $24 billion biotech company known for making gene-sequencing machines, announced their plans to unlock early cancer detection with cheaper, less invasive technology. In lieu of biopsies, one blood sample could be screened, which is due to the recent affordability of human genome testing.
The path to early cancer detection is paved with an investment of $100 million to simplify the process with one blood test.
The GRAIL’s newly launched website sets the stage:
“Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, with over 14 million new cases per year and over 8 million deaths annually. Cancer incidence is expected to increase more than 70% over the next 20 years. At least half of all cancers in the United States are diagnosed in Stage III and Stage IV, leading to lower survival rates. Detecting cancer at the earliest stages dramatically increases the probability of a cure and long-term survival.”
Illumina CEO Jay Flatley states that the idea behind GRAIL was hatched eighteen months ago when researchers were trying the company’s DNA sequencers out on blood and discovered that as the sequencers became increasingly powerful, they were able to detect trace amounts of DNA in those samples.
So the task at hand is to enable early detection of cancer-associated mutations in DNA fragments—in asymptomatic people—through one blood screen. This evidence is the key to significantly diminishing cancer mortality across the world by early-stage detection.
Flatley also mentioned how crucial it is to illustrate this new cancer test “doesn’t have a high false positive rate” and that it can ascertain potentially aggressive cancers versus those that have a minimal chance of any health consequences.
2016 will be spent the pan-cancer screening before clinical trials start in 2017. Now, the next step awaits: pairing Illumina’s access to next-generation DNA sequencing technology along with world-class talent. Are you up to the task? They’re hiring now.