Gates And Bezos Back Startup For Controversial Cancer Treatment

New York’s biotech community received another boost thanks to a $100 million Series A investment from Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos in a cancer-research startup.

Gates and Bezos are partnering with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to back Grail, a new company hoping to turn simple blood tests into a viable method of detecting many types of cancer. The $100 million investment was announced Sunday afternoon.

Sloan Kettering, a Manhattan research institute, also joins San Diego-based Illumina and Arch Venture Partners in supporting Grail. The goal is to use “liquid biopsies” as a means of finding cancer much earlier than what is currently considered possible.

The deal comes at a time when liquid biopsies and gene-sequencing have become more affordable, as well as viable options to screen at-risk patients. However, previous attempts to use liquid biopsies as diagnostic tools have not passed the FDA’s scrutiny.

If tests go as planned and approval is granted, the results could be unprecedented. Grail’s test, which will cost $1,000 or less, scans patients’ blood streams for signs of cancer DNA, which can indicate that a tumor is forming. This occurs even if a doctor can’t see it on a scan and the patient hasn’t experienced any symptoms.

Many cancers currently don’t show up on CT scans or blood tests until they’re more developed and spreading. As a result, some patients are unaware that they have cancer until it’s too late.

Grail, which is based in New York City, hopes that earlier diagnoses will help doctors remove tumors before they turn painful or spread, and potentially save patients from chemotherapy. The company’s goal is to prove to the FDA that liquid biopsies are a valid early diagnostic tool. It expects the tests to be available by 2019.

Grail isn’t the only company known for cancer research grabbing headlines these days. Last week, cancer treatment startup Petra Pharma, based in the Alexandria Center for Life Science in Manhattan, launched with a $48 million Series A funding round. Arch Venture Partners also backed Petra.

New York-based Flatiron Health, known for developing software that analyzes data concerning cancer treatments, recently received $175 million as part of a Series C investment.

Source: New York Business Journal, Anthony Noto
Photo: Bill Gates, Microsoft Corp.’s chair and founder, along with Amazon.com Inc. chief executive Jeff Bezos, attending a 2015 Allen & Co. conference in Sun Valley, Idaho. The two business magnates have agreed to back Grail, a startup focused on detecting cancer. (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg)

Anthony Noto is a multimedia journalist focused on venture capital and Silicon Alley startups. Based in New York for the Business Journals, he previously was a reporter at SourceMedia and The Deal LLC. He is a graduate of Rutgers University.