by Jim Shamp, NCBiotech writer — June 3, 2020 | WRAL TechWire
RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced Tuesday that the innovative California-based healthcare company GRAIL, Inc., will invest $103 million and create nearly 400 new jobs over the next four years in Research Triangle Park.
The 5-year-old Menlo Park company, whose mission is “to detect cancer early, when it can be cured,” has raised more than $2 billion in venture capital to support its development of a “liquid biopsy” blood test to detect more than 50 types of cancers in people, even before they develop symptoms.
The platform technology combines genetic sequencing, population-scale clinical studies, and big data.
Laura Rowley, Ph.D., director of life science economic development at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, represents the state’s unique 35-year commitment to partnerships resulting in GRAIL and more than 735 other life sciences companies establishing campuses within the state.
“GRAIL is a driven company pursuing a paradigm-shifting goal,” said Rowley. “NCBiotech and our state and local partners are thrilled to welcome GRAIL to North Carolina and look forward to supporting its efforts to implement diagnostics for early cancer detection and improved patient outcomes.”
Key partners working with GRAIL on the new 200,000-square-foot lab, office and warehouse facility in RTP include the North Carolina General Assembly, North Carolina Department of Commerce, the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce, Durham County, the Research Triangle Regional Partnership, Duke Power and the North Carolina Community College System. Newmark Knight Frank (NKF) leasing team in San Francisco led the real estate transaction while NKF Global Strategy advised GRAIL on the site selection. The company said the new Durham facility will primarily serve as a commercial lab focusing on sample processing.
In an essay published last week on the company’s website, Joshua Ofman, M.D., MSHS, chief medical officer responsible for external affairs, explained the groundbreaking approach GRAIL is taking.
“We at GRAIL are employing a single blood test and are dedicated to making the revolutionary breakthrough of safe and effective multi-cancer early detection a reality,” he writes.
MAXIMIZING DETECTION, MINIMIZING HARM IN CANCER SEARCH
“GRAIL’s test was designed to maximize population cancer detection while minimizing potential harms and is a complement to existing screening tests. GRAIL’s test can detect more than 50 cancers across all stages, with a very low false positive rate of less than 1.0%.
“When a cancer signal is detected, our test can identify where in the body the cancer is located with high accuracy — critical to enable health care providers to direct efficient work-up and subsequent care for patients. Recent modeling data suggests if all cancers currently diagnosed at stage IV could be detected earlier, evenly distributed across stages I-III, cancer deaths could fall by 24 percent.
“This is what motivates us to continue to advance our technology. We are building the foundation of evidence necessary for clinical use and broad adoption. In the last year, we made tremendous progress in advancing our mission.
“In addition to multiple data presentations, we published validation data for our test in Annals of Oncology, and we initiated PATHFINDER, an interventional study that will use the test to guide clinical care for the first time. This large-scale interventional study is being conducted at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Mayo Clinic, Intermountain Healthcare, Sutter Health, Oregon Health & Science University, and Cleveland Clinic.
“GRAIL was founded to tackle one of the most ambitious undertakings in healthcare, to find cancer early, when it can be cured. We knew the path would not be easy because this groundbreaking technology would be the first of its kind. What we have set out to do is change the trajectory of cancer care, and we are on the cusp of making this a reality.
WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW CAN HURT YOU
“Beating cancer starts with knowing you have it, and GRAIL’s novel approach to early detection could provide a potent new weapon in the war against cancer.”
GRAIL, whose CEO is the highly successful biotech entrepreneur Hans Bishop, also has a site in Washington, D.C. The company is supported by leading global investors and pharmaceutical, technology, and healthcare companies.
“We want to thank Governor Cooper, Secretary of Commerce Anthony Copeland, and our local Durham partners for their leadership and support of GRAIL’s expansion to North Carolina, known for its large pool of skilled talent and innovative spirit that is critical to the success of our mission to detect cancer early and save lives,” said Uplaksh Kumar, GRAIL’s senior vice president of strategic operations and scale. “This expansion is an important step forward in making our pioneering, multi-cancer early detection blood test widely available to patients and healthcare providers across the country.”
North Carolina’s solid core of research and healthcare institutions, biomedical R&D capabilities, and health information technology companies have put the state in a position of global leadership in precision health. To focus those capabilities, during the past several years, NCBiotech and a seminal group of partners established the North Carolina Precision Health Collaborative to foster innovation and add new precision health-based companies such as GRAIL.
As a result, GRAIL will be able to leverage the state’s precision health base with its strengths in diagnostics and testing and digital health with nearby companies such as LabCorp, Mako Medical and Q2.
The Triangle area’s training infrastructure will help GRAIL fill its workforce needs in roles ranging from lab techs to research scientists and engineers to bioinformaticians. Durham Tech, Wake Tech, Alamance Community College, North Carolina Central University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University and North Carolina State University will all be important training partners.