Grail plans to raise $1B to advance cancer-screening liquid biopsy

Grail is seeking to use a blood-based test—typically used to guide cancer treatment—for the early screening of cancer.

Illumina cancer-screening spinoff Grail declared Thursday that it intends to raise more than $1 billion in its Series B round. A $1 billion round—pretty much unheard-of in biotech or med tech—would catapult Grail into the company of tech giants like Facebook and Uber.

A year ago, Illumina hived off Grail, a company focusing on using liquid biopsy for the early detection of cancer. Liquid biopsy is generally used to guide treatment options, but Grail seeks to apply it to the more complicated task of screening for the disease.

Grail expects to close the Series B by the end of the first quarter and will use it to bankroll the development and validation of its blood-based test for cancer screening, according to a statement. Grail previously raised $100 million in its Series A from the likes of Bill Gates, Bezos Expeditions and Sutter Hill Ventures.

“This raise, when completed, will provide GRAIL the resources to develop its first products and embark on the large-scale trials required to demonstrate the stringent performance requirements of a cancer screening test,” said Jay Flatley, Illumina’s executive chairman and Grail chairman, in the statement. The trials include the company's Circulating Cell-free Genome Atlas Study, which is recruiting 10,000 volunteers in an effort to discover the genetic makeup of several cancer types at various stages of development.

Some of the proceeds will go toward buying back some of Illumina’s stake, leaving the sequencing giant with less than a 20% stake. With Grail set to “aggressively” invest its new capital, Illumina will convert their supply and commercialization agreement to a market-based agreement, it said in the statement. With time, Grail will become one of Illumina's major customers, according to the statement.

“We are honored to have world-class investors who support our goal of reducing global cancer mortality through early detection—especially the invaluable support we received from Illumina during out start-up phase—and we look forward to the next phase of our growth,” said Grail CEO Jeff Huber.