Jeff Huber is a legendary engineering manager from Google. His new startup, Grail, is a paradigmatic example of technology being used to attempt something that was previously impossible—a simple blood test for the early detection of cancer. When we talk about technology destroying jobs, we forget about the new things that it makes possible! Who would have thought, when machines took away the jobs of farm workers or cloth makers, that we’d use descendants of those machines to tunnel through mountains and under the sea, to build skyscrapers, and to fly through the air to distant locations in the space of a few hours. So too, work like what Jeff is doing at Grail will totally change our sense of what can be done, what must be done. Solving hard problems is the secret to regaining our hope for the future.
— Tim O’Reilly
Google did a great job of recognizing importance of having a great team going after the big challenges. We’re putting together [the] best team of scientists with the best understanding of cancer biology, [and] the best big data and informatics and build the infrastructure it takes to do this. That way we can see the patterns, correlations, [and] data that will then feed the predictions and hypotheses and give us a better understanding of cancer biology.
My work at Grail is dedicated in remembrance of my wife, Laura. She fought an incredibly brave battle with her cancer, but it was ultimately a losing battle since it was diagnosed so late (at stage 4). If Grail had existed before, and caught her cancer earlier, it’s very possible she’d still be with us today. Things don’t “happen for a reason,” but you can find purpose and meaning in things that do happen. When Grail succeeds, hopefully many, many people and their loved ones can be spared the cancer experience Laura endured.
Every day we don’t have a test available, lives are being lost.
We’re still investigating the science, and we’re optimistic we will be able to say, “Statistically, this looks like a breast cancer or colon cancer.”
There’s a sense of urgency to have a high-quality test as quickly as possible.
Jeff Huber is the CEO of Grail. Grail’s mission is to detect cancer early, when it can be cured. Grail builds on ultradeep genome sequencing technology and leading-edge computer science, bioinformatics, and machine learning to create unprecedented scientific understanding of cancer biology. Grail’s product will be a screening blood test used by everyone that can detect cancer at an early stage and hopefully save millions of lives. Prior to Grail, Jeff bootstrapped work at the intersection of life sciences and computer science at Google X and led development for Google Ads, Google Apps, and Google Maps. Earlier, Jeff was vice president of architecture and systems development at eBay and senior vice president of engineering at Excite@Home, where he led consumer product and infrastructure development. Jeff holds a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from the University of Illinois and a master’s degree from Harvard University. He is a board member of Electronic Arts (EA) and the Exploratorium and a former board member of Illumina.
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