Genetic sequencing biotech Illumina has agreed to acquire Grail, the cancer screening start-up backed by Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates, in an US$8 billion cash-and-stock deal that will be its largest to date, reported The Financial Times.
Grail specializes in the emerging field of liquid biopsy: taking a blood sample to test for cancer. By detecting tumour DNA in the bloodstream, the technology can identify more than 50 cancers, including where they are located in the body, with a false positive rate of less than 1%.
The aim is to develop a product that will detect cancers early and in a less intrusive way than traditional biopsies, which involve taking a tissue sample.
However, creating such a product takes time, as there are risks of false alarms when people without symptoms are tested. The company’s test is still in very large trials — including one with 100,000 participants. Last year, it received a breakthrough designation from the US Food and Drug Administration, which aims to accelerate the review of new products.