Former Google Exec Steps Down as GRAIL CEO

Published: Aug 04, 2017

Former Google Exec Steps Down as GRAIL CEO August 3, 2017
By Alex Keown, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

MENLO PARK, Calif. – Former Google executive Jeff Huber, who became the founding chief executive officer of cancer diagnostics company Grail, Inc. has stepped down from his leadership position to take a spot on the company board of directors.

Huber took the reins of the company last year. His desire to lead the company through development of a cancer diagnostics test was fueled by the loss of his wife who died three months before he was tapped as Grail CEO. Laura Huber was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer 18 months before her death. Because her cancer was not discovered until the disease had progressed to such a late stage, in an interview with BioSpace last year Huber likened the diagnosis to a death sentence for his wife.

In its announcement this morning, Grail did not provide a reason for the shift in Huber’s role. The company said as vice chairman of the board of directors at Grail, Huber would “continue to provide his expertise on the intersection between life sciences and computer science.”

Huber said in a statement that he was proud of the accomplishments of the Grail team in developing an early-cancer screening system. With the right team in place, Huber said it was time for the company to transition its leadership team as it looks to eventual commercialization.

Taking over as CEO at Grail is Bill Rastetter, chairman of the board of directors. Ken Drazan, the chief business officer at Grail, has been promoted to president, the company said.

New CEO Rastetter praised Huber for “laying the groundwork” for “launching the largest clinical research program ever conducted in genomic medicine.”

Grail launched in January 2016 with the idea of creating a “pan-cancer” screening test able to diagnose cancer at an early stage prior to symptoms. The technology measures circulating nucleic acids in blood, which Huber said provides a greater opportunity in detecting cancers early as opposed to searching for cancer biomarkers. Finding cancer biomarkers is complicated due to the complexity of cancer cells, which can rapidly mutate.

In June, Grail announced results from a study evaluating a novel high-intensity sequencing approach for detecting tumor signals in the bloodstream. The company said data showed that in 89 percent of patients, at least one of the mutations detected in the tumor tissue was also detected in the blood. In a statement at the time, the company said its sequencing approach “is able to detect a broad range of tumor mutations in the bloodstream with high levels of concordance with all mutations detected in tumor tissue.” Additionally, the company said the foundational data supported the feasibility of its approach.

Grail has raised more than $1 billion in financing from investors that include GV, which is the venture capital arm of Google , as well as Amazon , Bristol-Myers Squibb and Celgene Corporation .

Before taking over at Grail, Huber served two years as a senior vice president at Google X, the company’s life sciences division with a focus on big data analytics. In addition to his work with Google X, Huber led development of Google’s advertising products and Google Apps, and ran Google’s Geo division, including Google Maps and Google Earth. Before Google, he led the development of large-scale systems at eBay and Excite@Home.

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