Government announces plan to sequence 100,000 genomes

10 December 2012

The government has announced plans to sequence the full genomes of up to 100,000 NHS patients over the next 3-5 years.

The initiative is aimed particularly towards tackling cancer and rare inherited diseases, and will form part of the next phase of the Strategy for UK Life Sciences that was launched by the Prime Minister a year ago (see previous news).

In a press statement the government says it anticipates that the process of sequencing 100,000 patients’ genomes in UK centres will “drive down the cost, delivering value for money in comparison to the current NHS tests for cancer and rare diseases”.

Prime Minister David Cameron said "It is crucial that we continue to push the boundaries and this new plan will mean we are the first country in the world to use DNA codes in the mainstream of the health service. By unlocking the power of DNA data, the NHS will lead the global race for better tests, better drugs and above all better care”.

A total of £100 million has been earmarked to ‘pump-prime’ DNA sequencing and build the NHS data infrastructure the government says, as well as to provide training for a new generation of British genetic scientists and for the wider healthcare community to help them harness genomic technology.

Taking part in genome sequencing will be entirely voluntary, and whole genome sequence data will be anonymised before it is stored. Various different storage methods will be investigated before implementation, with patient confidentiality being accorded top priority. The announcement has not named any institutions that will be involved in the project.

Comment by PHG Foundation Director Hilary Burton:
The PHG Foundation welcomes the report and the much needed boost to the UK’s objectives of global leadership in healthcare genomics. However, we note that these major technological developments must be complemented by prioritisation elsewhere in NHS policy, and particularly with the NHS Commissioning Board and Public Health England.

On a practical level, investment will be required in development of programmes to use genomic knowledge effectively in clinical practice and to promote this high quality practice throughout mainstream medicine; through leadership, education and commissioning guidance.

Finally, the responsible use of genomics in this way will also require development of guidance on the optimal use of genomic information, whether germane to the clinical situation, incidental, or deliberately sought for future disease prevention. Such questions will be pursued in forthcoming months through the PHG Foundation work programme.

For further more detailed comment please see our response here.

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