Ambitious Plans for Genomic Medicine in the UK

Siobhan Harris

October 03, 2018

The Health and Social Care Secretary has announced plans for a major expansion in genomic medicine. He wants to sequence five million genomes in the UK in the next 5 years.

Matt Hancock made the announcement at the Conservative Party Conference. He said: "I’m proud to announce we are expanding our 100,000 Genomes Project so that one million whole genomes will now be sequenced by the NHS and the UK Biobank.

"I’m incredibly excited about the potential for this type of technology to improve the diagnosis and treatment for patients to help people live longer, healthier lives – a vital part of our long-term plan for the NHS.

"Today’s commitments form part of our bold aspiration to sequence five million genomes in the UK, using ground-breaking technology to do this within an unprecedented 5-year period."

Many More Patients Will Benefit

From next year all seriously ill children will be offered whole genome sequencing as part of their care. Adults with certain rare diseases or hard-to-treat cancers will also be offered the same option.

At the moment it can take years to diagnose a rare disease, but genomics can potentially speed this up and reduce the number of invasive tests that patients currently have to undergo.

The more genetic information there is, the earlier clinicians can predict, diagnose and treat the disease in a way that works best for each patient.

Iain Foulkes, Cancer Research UK’s executive director of research and innovation, said: "We welcome the Government’s ambition. Being able to offer more patients gene testing as part of their routine cancer care means more patients will benefit from better access to precision medicines.
 
"Data collected as part of this genomics programme can be used to improve our understanding of cancer as well as the diagnosis and treatment of patients across the UK. Patients are telling us they want their data used to advance research, so the NHS must put the systems and safeguards in place to ensure this data is available to researchers to further improve the outlook for patients."

Expansion of NHS Genomic Medicine Service

The announcement comes as the NHS Genomic Medicine Service is officially rolled out. There are 13 genomic medicine centres in the UK marking the expansion of people's access to genetic testing and DNA sequencing.

The NHS is the first health service which will routinely use genetic testing to diagnose patients and improve preventative care. Genetic tests are already offered by the NHS in some areas but the Genomic Medicine Service will make testing more widely available.

Patients offered the new service will be able to decide it they want to share their data with a central database to boost the understanding of their illness.
 

Exciting Challenges Ahead

Clinical geneticist and Professor of Medical Genetics at the University of Manchester is Dian Donnai. She says: "It is exciting that Genomics is centre stage in the health agenda and this programme is certainly ambitious! 

"We need full engagement with patients and groups working with genomics professionals and indeed all specialties to ensure NHS genomic services address clinical needs and are delivered in a safe and appropriate way. There are challenges we will have to face but I am sure all my colleagues will be excited by this national initiative."

Professor Donnai added: "Genomic medicine has the potential to transform diagnosis, risk assessment, and treatments and to be applicable to all branches of medicine. It will build on clinical and laboratory services established several decades ago for families with rare disorders and familial cancers."

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