San Francisco – A San Francisco-based healthcare firm called Grail, which is developing a blood test for early cancer detection has named former Google X Senior Vice President Jeff Huber as its CEO Wednesday.
Huber will join the teen to help them develop the technology behind cancer detection and to begin large-scale clinical trials of its cancer-detection system. Grail board chair and Illumina CEO Jay Flatley said that Jeff once helped Google map the world, and now he would help map the molecular biology of the microscopic cancer DNA that might be circulating in our blood.
Huber, who had more than a decade of experience building the systems that manage and analyze the data used for AdWords, Google Maps, and the Google Apps suite before he joined Google X in 2013 decided to join the DNA testing venture after his wife Laura died of colon cancer on November 10.
“I had already been ramping up on the biology and science behind this and then there was this very poignant reminder of the implications that there has to be a better way to do this,” Huber said.
Before his wife was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer the former Google X CEO was already turning his focus toward biology. He decided to move to this field and help experts understand complex biological systems rather than jumping back into building a big system at Google. He said he felt that biology was going through a “phase change,” like the transition from analog to digital.
Then, he decided to join the board of directors at Illumina Inc., a gene-sequencing venture which received more than $100 million from many different sources including technology giants Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, and Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com. The company’s major goal is to use its DNA sequencing machines to detect cancer at an early stage, when it is easier to treat, with a blood test.
Huber said the initial target market for testing will be individuals with a genetic predisposition to cancer once it’s cleared for widespread use. The ultimate goal is to see it used as part of annual physical exams.
The team working on the technology has been able to spot cancer DNA in 100% of people with advanced colorectal cancer. They also found a cancer signature in about 70 % of those whose disease was still localized, that means at an earlier stage, the company main goal. However, some tumors, like brain cancer, don’t show up well on the tests yet.