New implementation plan to advance genomic healthcare
The Government has announced plans to 'position the UK as the most advanced genomic healthcare system in the world'.
Genomics is the study of genetic information and can help diagnose diseases earlier and more accurately, reduce some invasive procedures and enable tailored treatments. Building on the success of the 100,000 Genomes Project, the aim is to sequence one million whole genomes – 500,000 genomes in the NHS and 500,000 in UK Biobank, which will transform healthcare in the UK and create jobs. In 2018 to 2019, genomics contributed £1.9 billion to the UK economy, according to the Government.
Working with key partners across the genomics community, the Genome UK implementation plan 2021 to 2022 sets out 27 commitments to deliver over the next year including five high-priority actions:
- Faster diagnosis and treatment of cancer using genomics through partnership working between Genomics England and NHS England/Improvement to identify technologies that could be used to enable faster and more comprehensive genomic testing for cancer.
- Whole genome sequencing for patients with rare diseases and cancer as part of the NHS Genomic Medicine Service. This builds on the success of the 100,000 Genomes Project, making the NHS the only healthcare system worldwide to routinely offer this life-changing test for earlier diagnosis.
- Engage closely with different communities to ensure diverse datasets, through bespoke screening programmes. This will ensure everyone across the UK can benefit from genomic healthcare and our genomic databases are representative of our diverse population. This is essential for equitable access to new techniques, such as polygenic risk scores (PRS) which compares a person’s risk to others with a different genetic makeup, and pharmacogenomics, which examines the role of the genome in the body’s response to drugs.
- Our Future Health, the UK’s largest-ever research programme, will begin recruiting up to five million people representative of the UK population, to collect and link multiple sources of health information, helping researchers to discover new ways to detect and prevent the development of diseases. This was originally established as the Accelerating Detection of Disease challenge through £79 million of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) funding.
- Develop global standards and policies for sharing genomic and related health data. The National Institute for Health Research, Medical Research Council and Wellcome Trust will, over the next five years, provide a total of £4.5 million of funding to the Global Alliance for Genomics and Health, ensuring standards are easily accessible and usable by global genomic programmes and data-sharing initiatives, placing the UK at the forefront of secure sharing of international genomic and health-related data.
Speaking in the House of Commons, the Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock, said: "We will transform the UK into a life sciences superpower. We’ll build on the success story of our life sciences during the pandemic which has led the world in everything from vaccine development, to finding effective treatments that work, to genomic sequencing.
"We have published our Genome UK implementation plan for how we can build on this even further including our commitment to sequence one million whole genomes. Because genomics saves lives, and I’m determined the UK stays at the forefront of this vital new technology. If we draw on ingenuity like this, we can keep up the fight against COVID-19, and also tackle the other things that stop us living healthier lives like cancer, dementia, and heart disease."
He announced the Government is increasing UK investment in research and development bringing more of the supply chain onshore, while increasing efforts to attract the brightest innovators and best manufacturers. He said the benefits will be felt in Newquay, Newport, Newry and Newton Mearns.
This first phase implementation plan follows on from Genome UK: the future of healthcare published in 2020, which set out a vision to create the most advanced genomic healthcare system in the world, to deliver better healthcare at lower cost.