The UK is set to become the world leader in groundbreaking genetic research into cancer and rare medical conditions, which should transform diagnoses and how people are treated. Package of investment is currently worth more than £300 million.
The 4-year project aims to allow scientists to pioneer new research to decode 100,000 human genomes, otherwise known a patient’s personal DNA code. Sequencing the genomes, of a person with cancer or someone with a rare condition, may help scientists and doctors understand how certain conditions work. The project has the potential to transform the future of health care, with new and better tests, drugs and treatment. It is expected to provide a lifeline to thousands of families affected by rare genetic conditions and cancers. One of the objectives of this project is for the UK to map 100,000 human genomes by 2017.
There is also a new partnership between Genomics England and the company Illumina, which aims to deliver infrastructure and expertise to turn the plan into reality. Illumina’s services for whole genome sequencing have already been secured in a deal worth around £78 million.
In turn, Illumina aims to invest around £162 million into England’s research over 4 years, creating new knowledge and jobs in the field of genome sequencing. The investment may support the life science industry to thrive and potentially create opportunities for talented UK scientists to lead the world. It may also pave the way for all NHS patients to eventually benefit from this exciting new technology.
Prime Minister, David Cameron, has said: “This agreement will see the UK lead the world in genetic research within years. I am determined to do all I can to support the health and scientific sector to unlock the power of DNA; turning an important scientific breakthrough into something that will help deliver better tests, better drugs and above all better care for patients. As this plan becomes a reality, I believe we will be able to transform how conditions are diagnosed and treated in the NHS and across the world; while supporting our best scientists and life science businesses to discover the next wonder drug or breakthrough technology.”
In addition to this package, the Wellcome Trust has invested more than £1 billion in genomic research and has agreed to spend £27 million on a world class-sequencing hub at its Genome Campus near Cambridge. This may house Genomics England’s operations, alongside those of the internationally respected Sanger Institute. The agreement may place Genomics England at the heart of one of the world’s most vibrant genomic science and technology clusters; also allowing scientists to work with world-class researchers from the Sanger Institute, the European Bioinformatics Institute, and biotechnology companies based on the same site. The Medical Research Council has also earmarked £24 million to help provide the computing power to make sure that the data of participants may be properly analysed, interpreted and made available to doctors and researchers securely.
Furthermore, NHS England has started the process of selecting the first NHS Genomics Medicine Centres. Successful centres may help to progress this ambitious project by inviting cancer and rare disease patients to take part and have their genomes sequenced. NHS England has agreed to underwrite an NHS contribution of up to £20 million throughout the life of the project.
The cash injection and new partnerships might mean excellent progress can be made on the 100,000 Genomes Project. It is expected that around 40,000 NHS patients could benefit directly from the research. Ultimately this work may pave the way for genomics-based medicine to become part of everyday practice throughout the NHS.
What additional ideas might be introduced to support the NHS and improve healthcare?