NHS to pilot Grail's cancer-spotting blood test in 165,000 patients

The U.K. National Health Service (NHS) is looking to get an early start on the international rollout of Grail’s multi-cancer blood test with a pilot program spanning 165,000 people.

Launching next year, the study plans to initially screen at least 140,000 people over the age of 50 who have no suspicious signs of cancer, alongside a group of 25,000 over age 40 who may have symptoms of the disease. After that, the program could be expanded to about 1 million people or more by 2024 and 2025, before the test is adopted for routine use.

The partnership dovetails with the NHS’ long-term goals of catching 75% of cancers while they’re in their early stages by 2028, to begin treatment before tumors have a chance to grow and spread.

The pilot will look to confirm the clinical and economic performance of the blood test, named Galleri, which searches for signs of different cancers by picking up small pieces of tumor DNA floating in the bloodstream and tracing it back to its tissue of origin.

“Every year, nearly 200,000 people in the U.K. die from cancer,” said Lord David Prior, chair of NHS England. “Many of these people are diagnosed too late for treatment to be effective.”

More than 80% of all cancer deaths in the country are from types that do not currently have a recommended screening test, they said, while more than 1,000 people in the U.K. are diagnosed with cancer each day.

By spotting cancers earlier, Grail said it hopes to potentially decrease the number of late-stage cancer diagnoses by nearly half and in turn reduce the total number of cancer deaths by about 20%.

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In clinical studies presented this year, previous versions of the Galleri test showed it could detect more than 50 different types of cancer from a single blood sample—and Grail is currently gearing up for its U.S. commercial launch in 2021.

The company got its start as a spinout from Illumina, which made an $8 billion offer this past September to bring Grail back into the fold and give the DNA sequencing giant a springboard into the clinical testing market.

“The collaboration between Grail, NHS England, and the U.K. government represents a novel approach to taking on one of the world’s biggest public health challenges,” Grail CEO Hans Bishop said. “We are excited to partner with the U.K. government to support the NHS Long Term Plan for earlier cancer diagnoses, and we are eager to bring our technology to patients in the U.K., and potentially save many lives.”