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A long way to go, but getting there — that’s the verdict on the highly anticipated data Grail released Saturday about its liquid biopsy for cancer.

The Illumina spinoff is almost as well known for its executive departures and ability to raise buckets of money as for its out-of-the-park goal: detecting tumors super-early, when even cancers with a horrible prognosis might be treatable, by analyzing DNA that has escaped its cells and is floating in the blood.


There are still years of work before Grail has a cancer blood test ready for clinical use. But the four studies it presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology demonstrate “a proof of principle,” said geneticist Fergus Couch of the Mayo Clinic, a co-author of a study using Grail’s system to detect breast cancer. “These methods are better for some cancers than others, and there are some cancers we didn’t pick up. But it bodes well that we can detect cancers and not make many mistakes in terms of telling someone she has cancer when she doesn’t.”

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