SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Grail, a healthcare firm developing a blood test for early cancer detection, named former Google X Senior Vice President Jeff Huber as its CEO Wednesday.
Huber said he wants to apply his experience building large-scale data systems to improve the gene sequencing technology used by Grail to detect cancerous material in patients who show no symptoms of the disease.
San Francisco-based Grail was formed by gene sequencing company Illumina Inc and received more than $100 million in Series A financing. Illumina is the majority owner. Key investors include technology giants Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, and Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, as well as ARCH Venture Partners and Sutter Hill Ventures.
"Jeff helped Google map the world, and he'll help us map the molecular biology of the microscopic cancer DNA that might be circulating in our blood," said Grail board chair and Illumina CEO Jay Flatley.
Huber had more than a decade of experience building the systems that manage and analyze the data used for AdWords, Google Maps and the Google Apps suite before he joined Google X in 2013. It was at the research facility, known for developing self-driving cars and delivery drones, that Huber kicked off his next professional adventure of pairing data and life sciences.
The work took a deeply personal turn for Huber a few months after the change at Google when his wife, Laura, was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer. She died of the disease in November after what he called an "incredibly brave 18-month battle."
"I had already been ramping up on the biology and science behind this and then there was this very poignant reminder of the implications that there has to be a better way to do this," said Huber.
For the next three years, Huber said Grail's goal is to see the technology behind cancer detection and location improved and to begin large-scale clinical trials of its cancer-detection system.
The initial target market for testing will be individuals with a genetic predisposition to cancer, once it's cleared for widespread use. The ultimate goal is to see it used as "part of annual physical exams," Huber said.
Editing by Stephen R. Trousdale and Andrew Hay