Life sciences startup Grail has signed a definitive agreement to merge with Cirina, a diagnostics developer in Hong Kong. The merger unites two companies that both focus on early detection of cancer. A spinoff of Illumina that has attracted backing from numerous tech giants, Grail aims to develop a liquid biopsy that catches the early stages of various cancers by using next-generation sequencing (NGS) to detect circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) in blood. Cirina has also worked on a ctDNA-based cancer diagnostic. Its research has focused more on developing separate assays for different indications of cancer, compared to Grail’s approach of devising a single, pan-cancer test.
Under the terms of the deal, Cirina will become a subsidiary of Grail, and several of its core members will join the Grail team. Y.M. Dennis Lo, PhD, co-founder of Cirina, will be named scientific co-founder of the new company and will join Grail’s scientific advisory board. Lo was the first scientist to discover the presence of circulating fetal DNA in a pregnant mother’s blood, a finding that led to the realization that ctDNA could be used to test for cancer. Grail will also bring Maneesh Jain, Cirina’s current CEO, onto its business team.
Grail expects that the merger will enable the company to better develop
and commercialize products in Asian markets. “By combining our scientific expertise and resources, we will greatly enhance our ability to achieve our goal of reducing global cancer mortality through the early detection of cancer,” said Jeff Huber, CEO of Grail.