J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference

Grail to detect cancer in healthy people: Flatley

New cancer blood test could detect disease earlier: CEO

Illumina announced a spinoff on Sunday, and the new company, which will go under the moniker Grail, promises to make a major dent in cancer rate mortality.

The company, which is majority owned by Illumina and has a roster of big-name investors such as Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates, says it will start detecting cancer before it's symptomatic.

Illumiina started finding cancer in healthy patients while conducting non-invasive prenatal tests in the search for down syndrome, Jay Flatley, Illumina's CEO, told CNBC's "Closing Bell."

"We accidentally were finding cancer in women when we actually weren't testing for that," Flatley said Monday. "We began to think what would happen if we actually designed a test that was targeted to detect cancer in healthy individuals."

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About six months ago, Illumina found sufficient evidence that "this was all going to work," Flatley said.

While many may fear false positives from Grail's liquid biopsies, Flatley points out that this new technology is not looking for surrogate biomarkers, which differentiates it from existing methods.

"We are actually measuring the DNA from the cancer cells themselves, so it's quite quite different" he said. "We will know if we detect a set of mutations that cancer is present in that individual then we'll need to go figure out where it is.