UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is to announce the launch of a new government body, Genomics England, later today according to the Guardian newspaper.
The purpose of the new organisation will be to direct the ‘genomic revolution’ within the NHS, presumably including the expenditure of £100 million for the sequencing of 100,000 genomes and clinical application announced last year (see previous news). Mr Hunt will reportedly tell a select audience in London today that "by 2015 the aim is to put the UK at the forefront of the genome revolution worldwide, with whole-genome sequencing linked to patient diagnosis, treatment and care".
As well as pioneering the new personalised approach to medicine, Genomics England will also be charged with securing large-scale pharmaceutical and biomedical commercial investment in securing access to the genomic and clinical databases that will be produced for research and development. Cash incentives will be available to attract businesses to invest in initiatives linked to the NHS. Patients will be automatically involved in the scheme unless they specifically choose to opt-out, and may be contacted by health professionals to ask if they are willing to participate in clinical trials, which may be conducted by charities, academic or commercial bodies.
Industry agrees with the government that this change is necessary in order to reduce costs and support stratification of clinical research (for example, testing the efficacy of drugs in sub-groups of patients who share specific genetic characteristics). Changes such as those taking place were advocated in 2010 by the Academy of Medical Sciences who called for the UK to makes the most of the unprecedented opportunities for medical research offered by the NHS (see previous news). However, concerns have already been raised by some about patient confidentiality and data security.
The Department of Health have yet to release details about the launch of Genomics England.