Blood test for cancer detection company Grail rakes in $390M in latest round
Just over a week after Third Rock-backed Thrive unveiled ‘real world’ data from a large study evaluating the ability of its blood test to sniff out early signs of cancer in individuals with no history of the disease, rival Grail has raised a gargantuan $390 million in its latest round of financing.
Grail — which was carved out of the DNA sequencing company Illumina in 2016 — has a multi-cancer detection blood test that relies on DNA sequencing to assess methylation, an epigenetic change across the genome to expose cancer signals.
Akin to Thrive’s nearly 10,000-strong DETECT-A study, Grail is currently enrolling patients (with the aim of recruiting 6,200) in a prospective PATHFINDER trial, which is designed to assess the utility of its early detection blood test in clinical practice. Grail is also enrolling an observational longitudinal, cohort study christened SUMMIT in London with 50,000 people who do not have a cancer diagnosis at the time of enrollment, but half of whom are smokers at high risk of cancer.
Cancer is the second leading cause of death globally — the earlier it is detected, the better shot patients have of bouncing back. Researchers have long pursued a minimally-invasive, effective test to expose early markers of the often deadly disease.
While Grail, backed by ARCH Venture Partners, relies on methylation to engineer its blood test designed to detect up to 50 cancer types, Thrive Earlier Detection is betting on interrogating genomic mutations in circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) as well as protein markers in plasma that have been implicated in cancer, to sniff out eight common cancer types. Both companies have secured the FDA’s breakthrough therapy status for their products.
There is a smattering of other companies such as Guardant Health, Biocept and Savicell with the same aim, some of whom are leaning on other markers to develop their liquid biopsy tests. Each company is looking to champion consistency and accuracy — false positives induce unnecessary anxiety and are costly. Another concern is, of course, privacy.
This $390 million Series D financing round, announced on Wednesday, brought in new investors including Public Sector Pension Investment Board and Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, as well as two undisclosed investors, who were joined by existing backers such as Illumina. Altogether, since 2016, Grail has raised more than $1.9 billion in four rounds of equity financing.
“Nearly 80 percent of cancer deaths result from cancers for which there is no screening test today, and GRAIL’s mission is to change that through the early detection and localization of more than 50 cancers,” said company chief Hans Bishop in a statement. “Enabling this through a single blood draw could improve patient access and adherence to cancer screening and address disparities in cancer care by improving access for rural, vulnerable, and under-served populations.”