Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos back new startup intent on developing 1 blood test for all cancers

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GRAIL, a startup majority-backed by $24 billion-biotech firm Illumina, is geared toward developing DNA sequencing technology that will be able to test for all types of cancer using a single blood test. While a test like this is likely not on the horizon, GRAIL has landed some big name investors that believe its preliminary tests and vision could pay off, including Bill Gates, Bezos Expeditions (the investment firm of Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos) and Sutter Hill Ventures.

GRAIL will be powered by Illumina's DNA sequencing technology, and the pan-cancer screening test the company intends to create will make determinations about illness by measuring circulating nucleic acids in blood, according to a news release from the company.

"The holy grail in oncology has been the search for biomarkers that could reliably signal the presence of cancer at an early stage," Richard Klausner, MD, a director of GRAIL, former Illumina CMO and former director of the National Cancer Institute. "Illumina's sequencing technology now allows the detection of circulating nucleic acids originating in the cancer cells themselves, a superior approach that provides a direct rather than surrogate measurement."

The startup's advisory board is rife with scientific and medical experts from institutions known for pioneering cancer research, including New York-based Memorial Sloan Kettering, Portland-based OregonHealth & ScienceUniversity's Knight Cancer Institute and Houston-based MD Anderson Cancer Center. 

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