San Diego-based Illumina, the world’s largest maker of DNA sequencing machines, said Sunday that it was forming a company to develop a blood test that can detect any kind of cancer at an early stage.
Many see such a test as the holy grail of oncology, as detecting cancer early can lead to more effective treatments (and possibly a cure).
The San Diego company, called Grail, has raised over $100 million, mostly from Illumina and the venture capital firm Arch Venture Partners, but also from Microsoft’s co-founder, Bill Gates, and Jeffrey Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon.
“We hope today is a turning point in the war on cancer,” said Jay Flatley, Illumina’s CEO and Grail’s chairman, in a statement. “By enabling the early detection of cancer in asymptomatic individuals through a simple blood screen, we aim to massively decrease cancer mortality by detecting the disease at a curable stage.”
Flatley says that the idea for Grail was hatched 18 months ago when Illumina researchers were trying the company’s DNA sequencers out on blood.
Illumina will spend the next year refining the test before testing it in clinical trials beginning in 2017, Flatley told the Wall Street Journal. If all goes well, a test to detect evidence of any cancer could be on the market by 2019.