San Francisco, California – Illumina Inc. (NASDAQ: ILMN), the world’s largest maker of DNA sequencing machines, announced on Sunday its intentions to form a new company that will develop a blood test to detect genetic evidence of any kind of cancer at an early stage.

Grail will be the new company created by Illumina along with a group of other investors. The new company promises to create a blood test that will become a major tool for detecting, diagnosing and managing treatment of cancer.

Illumina is set to develop a blood test able to detect early-stage cancer. It is expected to cost around $500. Credit: Xconomy

Jay Flatley, Illumina’s chief executive, said the test will be designed to screen people who have no cancer symptoms and detect the disease at its earliest stages when the chance to cure it is highest. The tests should reach the market by 2019, and would be offered through doctors’ offices or possibly a network of testing centers. The company hopes the test will cost around $500 each, low enough to make it accessible.

The company has raised more than $100 million. Illumina is the majority owner of the company but it also has other investors which include Jeff Bezos’s venture fund, Bezos Expeditions, and Arch Venture Partners, and Microsoft’s co-founder, Bill Gates.

The testing concept, called “liquid biopsy,” is to use high-speed DNA sequencing machines to scour a person’s blood for fragments of DNA released by cancer cells. So far, it is mainly used for patients already suffering from cancer as it helps to determine the particular mutations in the tumor to help select the best drugs to use. But, If DNA with cancer-causing mutations is present, it often indicates a tumor is already forming, even if it’s too small to cause symptoms or be seen on an imaging machine, so the test is indeed developed to detect the disease in an early stage.

But some experts said that developing such a test would be a daunting task. Critics said there is not enough evidence yet that a blood test can screen for cancer in healthy people. Flatley replied saying they had made tremendous progress, which gave them the confidence that they could get to the endpoint that they expect.

Leonard Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, said that the hardest part is not only demonstrating the ability to detect cancer early, but also, being able to say this knowledge is, in fact, meaningful in terms of patient outcomes.

“I can’t tell you how many times we’ve said, ‘Oh, all we have to do is find every cancer early and we would solve the problem,’” Lichtenfeld added.

Source: NY Times