Startups Enter Race to Create Cancer Screens From DNA, But is it All Too Soon?
The promise of liquid biopsies is most definitely an exciting one. Boasting the ability to offer noninvasive tests that detect and classify cancer by identifying the tiny bits of DNA that tumours shed into the bloodstream, what’s not to like?
With studies at leading cancer centres already showing the technology’s efffectiveness in personalising treatments after diagnosis, startups are rushing to sell VCs a vision of cheap, surgery-free cancer screening before symptoms have even appeared.
The likes of Aandreessen Horowitz, Google Ventures, Verily, and others have already invested $77 million in Freenome, reports Wired, which uses machine learning to pinpoint immune-system responses that may indicate the presence of cancer. However, Freenome’s biggest competitor, GRAIL plans to harness next-generation gene sequencing to directly measure cancerous genomic alterations in the blood. After raising $1.2 billion last year from ARCH Venture Partners, they are making their mark. Both companies are racing to make the first DNA-detecting blood test to reveal disease in its earliest stages.
However, it could be argued that biomedical engineers have become blinded by the possibilities. Critics claim that even with the support of low-cost genetic sequencing and high-powered alogrithms, liquid biopsy detection is still years away from being patient-ready. Are you getting Theranos flashacks yet?
It’s clear that money certainly isn’t an issue for these startups, who are nothing but raring to go, instead its the science standing in their way.
What do you think? Is it too early for these startups to get the ball rolling? Leave us your thoughts below.