Tech Giants Fund GRAIL: New Early Detection Cancer Blood Test
After heart disease, the second leading cause of death in the United States is cancer. The American Cancer Society has estimated that close to 1.7 million people will be diagnosed with some form of cancer this year with a death potential of almost 600,000. The problem with cancer, as is the case with other lethal diseases, is early detection.
GRAIL and the new blood test
GRAIL is a new company with a big claim. Backed by San Diego-based Illumina, the largest DNA sequencing firm in the world. GRAIL is currently developing a blood test that will revolutionize the time element so crucial in diagnosing many forms of cancer. Estimated to cost under $1,000, this test is expected to be viable by 2019. Using a technique known as liquid biopsy, the test will utilize high speed DNA sequencing devices which scan human blood streams for signs of DNA from cancer cells unlike earlier blood tests that seek whole tumor cells in the blood. This procedure is expected to replace invasive and expensive biopsies.
Liquid biopsies have been around for a while, but up until now have been out of reach financially for the average patient. It is only now that gene-sequencing has become affordable as an option for screening at-risk patients. It should also be noted that in the past liquid biopsies as diagnostic tools have not been FDA approved. Other companies are developing this technology but the Illumina announcement trumped all others because of its million-dollar-backing by Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos.
In the words of Leonard Lichtenfeld, American Cancer Society's deputy chief medical officer: "The hardest part is not only demonstrating the ability to detect cancer early, but being able to say this knowledge is in fact meaningful in terms of patient outcomes. The most exciting aspect of this new blood test is its promised ability to detect cancer even before a patient exhibits a single symptom!"
This spin-off of Illumina hopes to prove to the FDA that liquid biopsies are valid early diagnostic tools. They have enlisted the aid of Cancer Institute Memorial Sloan Kettering to help determine if the test is feasible. The goal ultimately is to save lives with earlier diagnoses and potentially avoid the trauma of chemotherapy. While the promise of these new tests is huge, there is a problem because as of yet, there have been no definitive studies to demonstrate their accuracy.
The future of this new blood test
Whether or not liquid biopsies will be cost-effective remains an unknown factor. Richard Klausner, former head of the US National Cancer Institute and a director of GRAIL, believes that large clinical trials are the only way to dispel any doubt that this new blood test is a marked improvement over currently available screening methods and his company is prepared to perform them.
Here's to the launching of a new weapon in the battle against cancer!
Do you think that that finding the cure for cancer is imminent? if so, explain.
Closing thoughts on medical innovation:
Surely every medicine is an innovation, and he that will not apply new remedies must expect new eviils for time is the greatest innovator. ~ Sr Francis Bacon