Cancer diagnostics firm GRAIL raised more than $900 million through a first close of a Series B fundraising round led by ARCH Venture Partners. The largest investment was made by J&J Innovations. GRAIL said it is planning a second close to take the Series B fundraising to in excess of $1 billion.

The firm will use proceeds from the fundraising to continue product development and to validate its blood tests for early-stage cancer detection, including its Circulating Cell-free Genome Atlas (CCGA) study and other large-scale clinical trials. GRAIL is combining what it calls high-intensity (ultrabroad and ultradeep) sequencing and population-based clinical trials to characterize circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) in healthy individuals and cancer patients. The ultimate aim is to develop cancer diagnostics that can detect tumors early enough to cure the disease.

“We envision a global community that benefits from early-stage cancer detection where fewer individuals face the anguish of late-stage diagnosis and devastating outcomes,” said Jeff Huber, GRAIL’s CEO. “I believe that GRAIL’s approach leveraging high-intensity sequencing, population-scale clinical studies, and state-of-the-art computer science and data science is unparalleled in the field of cancer detection.”

GRAIL was set up by Illumina and other investors in 2016. The firm said it has used some of the proceeds from the $900 million investment round to buy back a portion of its stock from Illumina, which has reduced the latter’s holding in GRAIL to under 20%.

“To realize our vision of a world without cancer, we need to find the best technologies with the potential to transform how we diagnose, treat, prevent and intercept cancer,” said William N. Hait, M.D., Ph.D., Janssen R&D. “Through our substantial investment in GRAIL, we hope to support science that can realize the potential of circulating tumor DNA as a way to diagnose cancer at its most curable stage, uncover new approaches to intercept the disease before it manifests and metastasizes, and monitor the efficacy of treatment in real time.”

Additional investors in the first close of the Series B round included Amazon, Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS), Celgene, McKesson Ventures, Merck, Tencent Holdings, and Varian Medical Systems. BMS said a research collaboration with GRAIL is also being planned through which it will examine and analyze clinical data to help direct R&D and the development of point-of-care (POC) companion diagnostics and precision medicine.

“It takes great science to make medical breakthroughs for patients,” said Paul Stoffels, M.D., CSO at J&J. “And through J&J Innovation, we are committed to finding transformative technologies that have the most potential to positively impact human health around the world. We are pleased to invest in the great science and technologies of GRAIL to help change the cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment paradigm.”

“A key enabler of our immuno-oncology strategy is to leverage precision medicine to speed the selection of the most effective combinations of therapies for patients,” said Francis Cuss, MB BChir, FRCP, Bristol-Myers Squibb’s CSO. “GRAIL’s future innovation potential is significant.”

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