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Grail, the cancer detection startup spun out of sequencing giant Illumina, has closed $900 million out of a planned $1 billion in its Series B financing round. 

Launched in January 2016, Grail initially received $100 million in startup funding from Illumina, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos’s venture fund, Bezos Expeditions, and Arch Venture Partners. At the time  of the launch Dr. José Baselga, the physician in chief at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, who will head the company’s science advisory board said “If this pans out, this could be a real game changer.”

This latest funding round will be used to continue development of the Circulating Cell-free Genome Atlas study, the company’s first major clinical venture. The project aims to characterise the landscape of cell-free DNA in both people with cancer and without, and will analyse at least 7,000 cancer patients and compare them to 3,000 healthy individuals.

The concept of liquid biopsy – a detailed screening of a patient’s blood to detect early signs of cancer before a patient experiences symptoms – has been around for a while, but Grail are the first company attempting to leverage the technology for early-stage cancer detection.

“We are honored to have world-class investors who support our goal of reducing global cancer mortality through early detection — especially the invaluable support we received from Illumina during our start-up phase — and we look forward to the next phase of our growth,” Grail CEO and former Google executive Jeff Huber said.

Even in the world of biotech where big investments and even bigger valuations are par for the course, Grail’s achievement is not to be sniffed at. Even some of the biggest biotech Series B rounds of 2016, including Human Longevity ($220 million) and Denali Therapeutics ($130 million), didn’t come close to the $1 billion mark. 

Grail are not alone in the liquid biopsy arena. San Francisco-based competitors Freenome have raised $65 million in Series A financing, from backers including, among others, Google Ventures. This brings the company’s total funding to date to $71.2 million. Freenome are also focused on liquid biopsy diagnosis, using a combination of machine learning and biology to detect circulating cell-free DNA. 

Parent company Illumina has planned to grant greater independence to Grail, with the this latest round of financing diluting the company’s stake to less than 20%. Illumina has also withdrawn members from Grail’s board of directors. 

Earlier this month Grail announced that Elizabeth Mansfield, current head of the US Food and Drug Administration personalised medicine group, would be joining the company as head of regulatory strategy. Mansfield’s appointment is an exciting move for an organisation that stand to face numerous regulatory hurdles to bring their product into the clinical marketplace.