Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos pour millions into new cancer test

(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

(CNN) — A new cancer test is getting some serious investment from two of the richest people in the world.

Tech luminaries Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos have led a $100 million round of funding for Grail, a new company that is developing a blood test that can detect many kinds of cancer much earlier than doctors are currently able to. Grail claims that the tests will cost $1,000 or less and be available by 2019.

Grail’s new test uses a technique called a “liquid biopsy.” It scans patients’ blood streams for signs of cancer DNA, which can indicate that a tumor is forming — even if a doctor can’t see it on a scan and the patient hasn’t experienced any symptoms.

Many cancers don’t show up on CT scans or blood tests until they’re more developed and spreading. Some patients don’t feel any pain or are unaware that they have cancer until it’s too late. Grail hopes that earlier diagnoses will help doctors remove tumors before they spread, and potentially save patients the trauma of chemotherapy.

Liquid biopsies aren’t a new idea, but only recently has gene-sequencing become affordable enough to make it a viable option to screen at-risk patients, the company says. They’re also controversial: Previous attempts to use liquid biopsies as diagnostic tools have not passed the FDA’s scrutiny.
Grail hopes that it can prove to the FDA that liquid biopsies are a valid early diagnostic tool. Cancer institute Memorial Sloan Kettering will partner with Grail to help determine if the new test is viable.
The company is a spinoff of Illumina, the world’s leading DNA sequencing company. Illumina, along with another venture capital fund called Arch, has also invested in Grail.

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