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The ex-Googler who ran a company to detect cancer just stepped down as CEO

  • Grail has raised more than $1 billion in funding to detect cancer in the blood stream while it's still early enough to treat.
  • The company is playing musical chairs with its executive team.
  • Jeff Huber, a Google executive, is stepping back, while two health and biotech veterans have been promoted.
Jeff Huber
Source: Business Wire
Jeff Huber

Former Google executive Jeff Huber has stepped down from the CEO role at early cancer detection start-up Grail after just over a year on the job.

Huber started at Google in 2003 and helped develop its ad technology and maps products, then helped lead the formation of the Google X lab. He left Google to take the CEO job at Grail in 2016.

He didn't have much experience with health care, except for his role on the board of biotech giant Illumina, which originally spun Grail out as a majority-owned subsidiary. But Huber was personally passionate about Grail's mission to detect early-stage cancer with a blood test, after losing his wife to the disease the previous fall.

Grail has raised more than $1 billion in financing from investors including GV, the venture arm of Google parent company Alphabet, and Amazon, which sees Grail as an opportunity to store massive amounts of genetic data in its AWS cloud.

Bill Rastetter, chairman of Grail's board of directors and a veteran biotech investor, has been named the new CEO. Ken Drazan, also a seasoned biopharma executive, has been promoted from chief business officer to president.

Huber will remain on the team as the vice chairman of the board of directors.

A press release did not provide any explanation of the move, but did indicate that Huber's ongoing role will be to provide "strategic technical advice." The company didn't initially respond to a request for comment.

But it is notable that the company promoted two executives in health care, while Huber, a tech expert, is taking a step back.

Now that its funding is secure, Grail is planning a series of large-scale clinical studies to demonstrate that its technology, which uses deep sequencing of tumor DNA in the bloodstream, can diagnose cancer before it's too late to treat.