Last week, a big biotech company announced that it’s spinning off a smaller company. Illumina is a DNA sequencing giant, and Grail is its ambitious child. Grail aims to spot cancer early by detecting genetic changes in the blood of apparently healthy people.
I admire the goal of early cancer detection, but think this a fool’s mission.
First, as Grail’s leaders acknowledge, cancer is more than one disease: it’s hundreds, or really more like thousands or even millions of unique conditions in which cells grow abnormally and without the usual controls. While most cancers contain genetic irregularities, those vary widely even within tumor types. Some malignancies lack definitive, disease-causing DNA changes. So Grail would be searching for hundreds or even thousands of possible gene variants in blood, and then would miss some cancers.
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