Just weeks after securing a breakthrough designation, honing its cancer detection strategy and presenting promising early results, Grail is bringing on a new CEO as it inches its blood test toward the market.
Former Juno Therapeutics helmsman Hans Bishop will pick up Grail’s quest to develop a simple, pan-cancer liquid biopsy. Effective immediately, current CEO Jennifer Cook will step down from her role and her spot on the board due to family health reasons, the company said.
Bishop inherits a clinical development program with two fully enrolled studies spanning about 115,000 participants, plus a third, 50,000-strong trial getting underway—as well as an operation that’s raised over $1.5 billion in venture capital money. He’s served on Grail’s board of directors since August of last year and will hold on to his seat going forward.
At the recent annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Grail showed off initial data demonstrating that its test could detect the presence of 12 different types of early-stage cancers using markers in the bloodstream—while identifying their tissues of origin before they spread—with a very low rate of false positives.
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Though they’re early results, that checks a lot of boxes for the former Fierce 15 winner’s goal of offering a wide-scale screening tool for more-treatable tumors, without contributing to overdiagnosis.
The FDA granted the test breakthrough status in the weeks before, alongside Grail’s announcement that its test would now focus on the epigenetic markers found in DNA methylation to detect disease, rather than by sequencing the genes themselves.
“We are thrilled that Hans is stepping into the CEO role to continue building upon this positive trajectory,” Catherine Friedman, chair of Grail’s board, said in a statement. “Hans is a widely respected corporate leader with significant experience building successful companies and guiding novel products through commercialization.”
Bishop led the CAR-T developer Juno from the company’s 2013 founding through its $9 billion buyout by Celgene last year—which earned him a $287 million parachute payout for his efforts. He’ll continue to serve as a director at Celgene, in addition to his seats at Agilent Technologies and Lyell Immunopharma, as well as his role as Sana Biotechnology’s executive chair.
“For much of my career, I’ve been involved in the fight against cancer, and during that time, I have seen real progress for patients,” said Bishop, whose Juno was a Fierce 15 winner as well. “However, cancer is still the second leading cause of death globally, and I believe early detection is key to changing that.”
Cook had jumped to Grail in 2017, becoming its third CEO in five months, after serving as global head of Roche’s clinical operations. Since then, Grail has transitioned from discovery-stage research into full-fledged clinical development.
Meanwhile—in perhaps more-intentional steps as the company continues forward—Grail brought on Amgen’s Joshua Ofman to be chief of corporate strategy and external affairs. He joins after spending 16 years at the Big Pharma, most recently as senior vice president of global health policy, and brings experience in market access and health economics.
Grail also appointed Maykin Ho, a venture partner of Qiming Venture Partners and a member of the biotech advisory panel of the Hong Kong stock exchange, as an independent director on its board. Previous reports from early 2018 hinted at Grail’s plans for an IPO in Hong Kong, though the company instead opted to raise about $300 million in venture funding that year instead.
In addition, the company also announced the departure of its chief financial officer, Renée Galá, without providing any additional details. Galá joined Grail in January from Theravance Biopharma, where she was CFO since 2014.