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UK government launches ‘Genomics England’

Published on 08/07/13 at 09:54am
Genomics england image

The government has invested £100 million into a new DNA mapping service for patients, and will begin with cancer, rare diseases and infectious diseases.

This comes six months after prime minister David Cameron announced that the personal DNA code - known as a genome - of up to 100,000 patients or infections in patients will be sequenced over the next five years.

The government hopes that this will improve understanding, leading to better and earlier diagnosis and personalised care.

Based on scientific advice, the Department of Health (DH) has initially prioritised sequencing of lung and paediatric cancer, rare diseases and infectious diseases.

The project will be run by Genomics England, an organisation entirely owned by the DH. Genomics England will manage contracts for specialist UK-based companies, universities and hospitals to supply services on sequencing, data linkage and analysis.

The DH said in a statement that it would also have ‘the independence and clout’ to drive innovation across systems and healthcare economies.

The announcement was made on the NHS’ 65th birthday, as part of plans to make the health service more tailored around individuals’ needs.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “The NHS has a long track record as a leader in medical science advances and it must continue to push the boundaries by unlocking the power of DNA data.

“The UK aims to become the first country to introduce this technology in its mainstream health system - leading the global race for better tests, better drugs and above all better, more personalised care to save lives.

“Genomics England will provide the investment and leadership needed to dramatically increase the use of this technology and drive costs down.”

Genomics England will be funded by the DH in the medium term, and any surplus will be invested back into improving health. It will be chaired by former chair of the Medical Research Council, Sir John Chisholm.

Pharma welcomes fund

Stephen Whitehead, chief executive of the ABPI, said: “The launch of Genomics England is welcome news - I am excited about what we can achieve through regular DNA sequencing throughout the National Health Service.

“Being able to link genomics with health records will strengthen the UK’s position as a leader in this field. It will be key to driving further research into stratified medicines - treatments tailored to those most likely to respond - and ultimately will help scientists and pharmaceutical companies create more targeted medicines to benefit patients.”

Up to £100 million of funding pledged by the government will:

  • train a new generation of British genetic scientists to develop life-saving new drugs, treatments and scientific breakthroughs;
  • train the wider healthcare community to use the technology;
  • fund the initial DNA sequencing for cancer and rare and inherited diseases; and
  • build the secure NHS data linkage to ensure that this new technology leads to better care for patients.

Under the leadership of Sir John, Genomics England will begin developing its structures over the coming weeks and producing its business plan.

Genomics England’s chief scientist will be Professor Mark Caulfield, a NIHR senior investigator at the Queen Mary University of London and the Barts National Institute for Health Research Biomedical Research Unit.

Ben Adams

 

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