Grail reels in $900M to bankroll large-scale cancer-screening trials

Grail raised more than $900 million in the first close of its Series B round, following the $100 million Series A it closed last year. The company pegged the funds for the development and validation of cancer-detecting blood tests.

The Illumina spinoff plans a second close to propel its total Series B funding beyond the $1 billion it said in January it would raise by the end of the first quarter. A round of this size is virtually unheard of in biotech or med tech and places Grail among tech giants such as Uber and Facebook.

Illumina transferred its liquid biopsy work to Grail in January last year and spun out the new company when it announced its Series B ambitions earlier this year. While liquid biopsy is already used to guide cancer treatment, Grail wants to apply it to the early detection of the disease.

The funding will support the development and validation of blood tests, including the Circulating Cell-free Genome Atlas study, which will profile cell-free DNA in healthy people and individuals with cancer. It will also bankroll large-scale clinical trials that the company said will enroll hundreds of thousands of patients.

“I believe that GRAIL’s approach leveraging high-intensity sequencing, population-scale clinical studies, and state of the art Computer Science and Data Science is unparalleled in the field of cancer detection,” said Grail CEO Jeff Huber in a statement. “Our team made tremendous progress in 2016 and I look forward to additional clinical and strategic milestones.”

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ARCH Venture Partners led the round, with participation from Johnson & Johnson Innovation, Amazon, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Celgene, Varian, and Merck.

Bristol-Myers also announced a research collaboration with Grail, which would allow it to examine its clinical data using Grail’s analytic tools. This could guide Bristol-Myers’ R&D decisions as well as its strategies to advance point-of-care companion diagnostics, according to a statement.