Australia aims for personalised medicine

26 November 2014

A coalition of hospitals and research facilities in Melbourne, Australia are seeking funding to establish a major clinical genetics research programme.

The Melbourne Genomics Health Alliance comprises the Royal Melbourne and Royal Children’s hospitals, the University of Melbourne, the Walter and Eliza Hall Research Institute, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and the Australian Genome Research Facility. It was launched earlier this year and has sequenced more than 150 genomes from patients with rare inherited diseases and cancer, as well as babies with suspected inherited disorders. However, the group reportedly wants to expand the programme to 2500 patients per year.

In June this year the New South Wales state government pledged AU$24 million for a similar programme led by the Garvan Institute. The Melbourne Genomics Health Alliance is hoping for the same level of funding from the Victorian state government to help them pioneer the practice of personalised medicine; however, Walter and Eliza Hall Research Institute Director Douglas Hilton has said: “The difference between the forward-looking NSW Government and the attitude of the Victorian Government has been stark…Now is the time to change that”.

Meanwhile Garvan Institute Director Professor John Mattick has said that genetic testing in Australia is about to make the transition from research into mainstream medical practice, and called for the rest of the Australian health system to ‘catch up with emerging technology so Australians don’t miss out’. Costs for whole genome sequencing are already below AU$2,000 thanks to the Garvan’s high-throughput Illumina HiSeq X Ten system and could fall further, although this does not account for the additional costs of sequence analysis and clinical interpretation.

At the national level, the Australian National Genomic Healthcare Initiative (ANGHI), coordinated by Professor Kathryn North of the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne, is multi-disciplinary, multi-organisation collaboration. They are currently considering a proposal for national Medicare funding for genome testing.

The Australian National Health and Medical Research Council has said that test results showing a genetic predisposition to disease will not preclude health insurance coverage, thanks to a system of equal premiums, but life insurance and income protection policies could be affected.

This article was updated to include accurate information about the work of the ANGHI on 27th November ; our thanks to Bronwyn Terrill of the Garvan Institute.

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