Guardant and Illumina bury the legal hatchet, ink cancer partnership

What’s a little litigation between friends? After accusing Guardant Health and its founders of absconding with company secrets more than 10 years ago, Illumina has opted to drop its lawsuit in favor of a new commercial partnership deal.

The DNA sequencing giant filed claims in March 2022 saying that Guardant’s co-CEOs, Helmy Eltoukhy and AmirAli Talasaz, originally set up the cancer blood test developer in 2011 while still serving on Illumina’s payroll—and that they took tens of thousands of internal documents with them when they eventually made the jump.

The lawsuit also took issue with the provenance of as many as 35 different Guardant patents, including for detecting tumor mutations among cell-free DNA in the bloodstream—though many of these claims were dismissed (PDF) by a Delaware federal judge in January. 

For the claims that remained, the two companies have now agreed to settle all pending litigation and intellectual property allegations, Guardant announced last week.

In their place, Guardant has signed on to a three-year commitment to purchase Illumina’s DNA sequencing supplies, and the two have agreed to share specimens and blood samples for cancer research.

“This agreement supports getting our transformative technologies to even more patients globally while strengthening our long-standing and valued partnership with Illumina,” Guardant Chief Commercial Officer Chris Freeman said in the statement.

The lawsuit first came down as Illumina was embroiled in the ill-fated acquisition of its former spinout, Grail, one of Guardant’s competitors in cancer blood test development.

Indeed, at the time Guardant had publicly painted the suit as retaliation for its objections to Illumina’s multibillion-dollar deal: The company said that if the DNA sequencing provider were to own its own blood test developer, it could potentially throttle back the research of potential rivals.

Those concerns were ultimately shared by antitrust watchdogs in the U.S. and Europe, who both moved to block the acquisition—despite Illumina moving ahead to close the deal in August 2021 without official regulatory green lights. 

Illumina recently received a record fine from the European Union for jumping the gun, totaling about $476 million. The company has also been ordered to unravel its ownership of Grail by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. 

Aside from nearly half-a-billion dollars, the failure to acquire Grail also saw the departures of Illumina’s CEO and its board chair, following a proxy battle led by activist investor Carl Icahn.

Board chair John Thompson was voted out of his seat by shareholders in May, to be replaced by one of Icahn’s hand-picked associates, while CEO Francis deSouza stepped down in June after about decade on the job.