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Flagship Pioneering taps former FDA chief Hahn to head new cancer diagnostic firm

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Dec 7 (Reuters) - Venture capital firm Flagship Pioneering said on Tuesday it has appointed former U.S. Food & Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn as the head of its newly launched diagnostic company for early detection of cancer.

The company, Harbinger Health, will use its proprietary AI and machine learning technology to gain insights into the origins of cancer and one of the products it hopes to launch is a blood-based test that will detect the disease before it is visible or symptomatic.

"What if we were able to diagnose a cancer at stage one or two as opposed to three or four or even more? That's the sort of impact we are talking about with respect to early detection... when presumably it would be much easier, more effective and safe to treat cancer," Hahn told Reuters in a interview.

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Hahn said the company is putting together a clinical development plan for the diagnostic test, which is currently being tested in multiple types of cancer, and intends to commercialize it in "the next couple of years."

Routine medical tests critical for detecting and monitoring cancer and other conditions plummeted in the United States during the pandemic, but the cancer diagnostic market is expected to grow rapidly in coming years.

Last year, Illumina (ILMN.O) shelled out $8 billion in a stock-and-cash deal to buy cancer screening startup Grail Inc, which is also developing a liquid biopsy, a blood test intended to diagnose cancers in the early stages.

Hahn, a radiation oncologist, had been a chief medical executive with the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston before serving as FDA chief between December 2019 and January 2021.

Flagship, which also has stakes in several other biotech companies, including Moderna Inc (MRNA.O), has made initial commitment to Harbinger Health of $50 million.

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Reporting by Mrinalika Roy in Bengaluru; Editing by Shailesh Kuber

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