Cancer blood test firm Grail mulls IPO

Grail, the US-based cancer detection startup backed by billionaires Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates is reportedly mulling a launch on the Hong Kong stock exchange.

Citing several sources, Bloomberg reported that Grail is mulling an initial public offering after attracting backers, including the world’s two richest men, when it was founded in 2016.

Grail is aiming to develop a readily available cancer test based on circulating tumour DNA – snippets of genetic material from cancer carried in the blood stream that could be used to diagnose the disease, suggest potential treatments, and monitor its progress.

According to Bloomberg, the California-based biotech wants to become one of the first companies to benefit from proposed new listing rules designed at attracting early-stage biotechs.

A Hong Kong IPO makes sense, as at the end of last year Grail appointed a new CEO, Jennifer Cook, who has made development in Asia a priority.

Grail CEO Jennifer Cook

Cook appointed two additional executives to its board, Catherine Friedman and Min Cui to broaden the industry experience in the company.

Grail said at the time that it is building its operations in Asia, and this year plans to launch a nasopharyngeal cancer screening test in Hong Kong and Asia.

This particular type of cancer has the highest incidence in middle-aged men in Southern China and Southeast Asia.

Grail aims to revolutionise treatment of cancer by providing accurate diagnosis in early stages of the disease, when outcomes are likely to be far better with a higher chance of curing the disease.

It is also compiling the ambitious Circulating Cell-Free Genome Atlas (CCGA) project. This aims to map the cell-free nucleic acids that commonly circulate in the bloodstreams of people with and without cancer.

The study began last year and aims to recruit 15,000 participants, with preliminary results due in September this year and a final analysis due in September in 2023.

A separate study known as STRIVE began last year and aims to recruit 120,000 participants to create a test for the early detection of breast cancer using cell-free nucleic acids shed by tumours.

Grail will also have competitors who aim to develop liquid biopsies to detect cancer – Google last year opened a lab in San Francisco that aims to develop a competing test.

And the UK medical devices firm Angle is working on a liquid biopsy that aims to detect circulating cancer cells, instead of genetic material.

Cook succeeded Jeff Huber, who stepped down last summer. Huber helped to found Grail, which was spun out of genetics analysis company Illumina in 2016, with $1 billion in funding from Alphabet, Amazon and Bill Gates.

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