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Illumina to acquire its spin-out GRAIL for $8bn in drive to accelerate cancer diagnosis by blood screening

Illumina is to reacquire its spin-out GRAIL for $8billion ahead of the commercialisation of a blood screening test for multiple cancers.

Both boards have signed off on the deal, which Illumina’s president and CEO Francis deSouza said would help transform routine cancer care by enabling earlier detection.

Francis deSouza, CEO, celebrates Illumina’s 21st anniversary in 2019 at its new EMEA HQ at Granta Park in Great Abington. Picture: Keith Heppell
Francis deSouza, CEO, celebrates Illumina’s 21st anniversary in 2019 at its new EMEA HQ at Granta Park in Great Abington. Picture: Keith Heppell

The company, which has its EMEA headquarters at Granta Park , said with the aid of a multi-disciplinary team, it would deploy next generation sequencing (NGS) technology, population-scale clinical studies and machine learning to address “one of medicine’s greatest challenges”.

“Over the last four years, GRAIL’s talented team has made exceptional progress in developing the technology and clinical data required to launch the GalleriTM multi-cancer screening test,” said Francis deSouza.

“Galleri is among the most promising new tools in the fight against cancer, and we are thrilled to welcome GRAIL back to Illumina to help transform cancer care using genomics and our NGS platform.

“Together, we have an important opportunity to introduce routine and broadly available blood-based screening that enables early cancer detection when treatment can be more effective and less costly.

“Multi-cancer early detection is better for patients, their physicians, and payers. As we accelerate our path to clinical leadership and the path to multi-cancer early detection, we will continue to drive significant value creation for our stockholders.”

The global genomic sequencing giant founded GRAIL in 2016 and span it out as a standalone company, which used Illumina’s NGS technology, along with data science and machine learning, to create an ‘atlas’ of cancer signals in the blood.

Among GRAIL’s investors are Bill Gates, Amazon, Tencent and Johnson & Johnson. The company raised about $2bn to support the platform and develop Galleri, an earlier version of which was able to detect more than 50 cancer types - over 45 of which have no recommended screening in the United States.

The company notes that early detection can typically improve survival rates by five to 10 times.

Illumina expects Galleri to launch commercially in 2021 as a multi-cancer, laboratory-developed test for early cancer detection using blood samples.

Francis deSouza, CEO of Illumina, at Granta Park. Picture: Keith Heppell
Francis deSouza, CEO of Illumina, at Granta Park. Picture: Keith Heppell

GRAIL intends to follow it up with further blood-based cancer tests for diagnosis, detection and the post-treatment monitoring of patients.

“Cancer is one of society’s most significant challenges, with most cancer being detected too late,” said Hans Bishop, CEO of GRAIL, which is based in Menlo Park, California.

“We believe multi-cancer early detection technology could address a tremendous unmet need and reduce the cancer burden worldwide.

“Combining forces with Illumina enables broader and faster adoption of GRAIL’s innovative, multi-cancer early detection blood test, enhancing patient access and expanding global reach.

“We are excited about this next step in our journey to transform cancer detection and outcomes and create value for patients and their families and communities, health care providers and payers, employers, and stockholders.”

The market for NGS oncology is expected to hit $75billion in 2035.

San Diego-headquartered Illumina says it will continue as a leading sequencing innovator and partner, while also becoming a proprietary test provider with the acquisition of GRAIL, which also has offices in Washington DC, North Carolina and the UK, .

Illumina expects to close the transaction in the second half of 2021, subject to regulatory approvals.

After the completion of the deal, GRAIL will operate as a standalone division within Illumina with a dedicated leadership team

GRAIL stockholders - including Illumina - will receive a total consideration of $8billion under the terms of the deal, consisting of $3.5billion in cash and $4.5billion in shares of Illumina common stock, subject to a collar.

Illumina holds 14.5 per cent of GRAIL’s shares outstanding, and approximately 12 per cent on a fully diluted basis. After the deal, Illumina will own 93 per cent of the combined company, while GRAIL stockholders are expected to own approximately seven per cent.

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