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Cancer Screening Analytics Company Acquired in $8B Deal

Blood sample vials

(Ahmad Ardity, Pixabay)

21 Sept. 2020. A company creating a blood test to screen for multiple types of cancer is being acquired by genomics analytics company Illumina for $8 billion in cash and stock. Grail Inc., in Menlo Park, California expects to make its Galleri blood test commercially available next year.

Grail’s technology tests blood samples for the presence of DNA circulating in the blood stream characteristic of tumors to detect, but also identify the type of cancer. Circulating tumor DNA, says the company, makes up only a small fraction of the DNA in blood, resulting in weak signals from tumor DNA, thus requiring intense analysis to separate these signals from background noise. Grail says it sequences DNA captured in blood generating a terabyte of data on each patient, with a deep level of analysis that includes machine learning to determine the type and severity as well as the presence of cancer.

The company was originally spun-off from Illumina in 2016, and uses Illumina’s next-generation or high-throughput sequencing along with machine learning and other data science tools for its analytics. Grail has two large-scale clinical trials underway evaluating its technology. The Pathfinder study is enrolling 6,200 participants, assessing individuals’ blood samples for indicators of 50 cancer types, with results sent to patients and physicians for appropriate diagnostic work-up.

The Summit study is recruiting 25,000 participants in the U.K. age 50 to 77, to detect multiple types of cancer, but particularly lung cancer. Individuals enrolled in the study will have a history of smoking that puts them at high risk for lung cancer, with follow-up for three years. in addition, participants will be tracked for another five years through national health registries and medical records.

Science & Enterprise reported on another clinical trial, also with results focusing on lung cancer. The Circulating Cell-Free Genome Atlas study enrolled some 15,000 participants with 10,500 participants are cancer patients while the remaining 4,500 are a cancer-free comparison group. Early results reported in December 2018 show an analysis of blood samples can detect and identify the presence of characteristic DNA indicating a person may have early stages of lung cancer.

Illumina, in San Diego, develops next-generation sequencing or NGS technology for advanced diagnostics across many disease types, but this acquisition is expected to insert Illumina more directly into early cancer screening and diagnostics, which the company believes will transform cancer care. Illumina already owns 12 percent of Grail stock, and is acquiring the rest of Grail’s shares for $3.5 billion in cash and $4.5 billion in Illumina stock.

Hans Bishop, CEO of Grail says in a statement, “We believe multi-cancer early detection technology could address a tremendous unmet need and reduce the cancer burden worldwide. Combining forces with Illumina enables broader and faster adoption of Grail’s innovative, multi-cancer early detection blood test, enhancing patient access and expanding global reach.”

Francis deSouza, Illumina’s president and CEO, adds, “Galleri is among the most promising new tools in the fight against cancer, and we are thrilled to welcome Grail back to Illumina to help transform cancer care using genomics and our NGS platform.”

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