UK poises to take global lead in genomics with new strategy

UK poises to take global lead in genomics with new strategy
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A new landmark strategy has been launched that aims to secure the UK as a future global leader in genomics.

The new National Genomic Healthcare Strategy – Genome UK: the future of healthcare – will ensure the UK can offer patients the best possible predictive, preventative, and personalised care by harnessing the potential of advanced genome sequencing.

The strategy aims to create the most advanced genomic healthcare system in the world and sets out how the UK genomics community will come together to harness the latest advances in genetic and genomic science, research, and technology for the benefit of patients.

The new strategy builds on the government’s existing ambition to analyse five million genomes in the UK by 2023/24, including sequencing 500,000 whole genomes through the NHS Genomic Medicine Service, and 500,000 whole genomes through the UK Biobank.

Improving healthcare in the UK

The National Genomic Healthcare Strategy will help to reduce boundaries between clinical care and research, deliver innovative new research projects, and unite the genomics community behind a shared vision for the future of the system.

The strategy has three areas of focus:

  1. Diagnosis and personalised medicine – using genomic technologies to identify the genetic causes of rare diseases, infectious diseases, and cancer, and provide personalised treatments to illness. The NHS will embed the latest genomic technologies to benefit patients.
  2. Prevention – genomics will be used to accurately predict the risk of chronic diseases. Subject to validation, national screening programmes could use genomics to identify at-risk populations, including more vulnerable populations and those in harder to reach groups to allow earlier clinical and lifestyle interventions.
  3. Research – the government will enable more efficient and improved collaboration between researchers and clinicians to benefit patients, while upholding the highest standards on the use of data. This includes ensuring that research findings are translated into healthcare settings to benefit patients.

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Genomics has the potential to transform the future of healthcare by offering patients the very best predictive, preventative, and personalised care. The UK is already recognised around the world as a global leader in genomics and this strategy will allow us to go further and faster to help patients right here in our NHS and give them the best possible chance against a range of diseases.

“The UK is using its expertise in genomics right now to advance our understanding of COVID-19, develop new treatments and help us protect the most vulnerable.”

COVID-19 genome sequencing

The announcement comes as the Government takes part in a UK-wide COVID-19 genome sequencing study led by the University of Edinburgh as part of the GenOMICC consortium and Genomics England. Hancock is calling  on those who have recovered from COVID-19 to join him in donating blood as part of a major new study examining genetic susceptibility to the virus, and so their genetic blueprint can be sequenced to help scientists better understand why some people may be worse affected by the virus than others.

The study will sequence the genomes of 20,000 people who were severely ill and in intensive care with COVID-19 and compare those with a further 15,000 individuals who had COVID-19 symptoms but did not need to go to hospital.

The insights gained will help scientists and clinicians find more effective treatments and could help protect the most vulnerable in future outbreaks.

Life Sciences Minister Lord Bethell said: “The UK has a proud history as a world leader in genomics. As we face the single biggest global health emergency in our lifetimes, now more than ever, it is paramount that we harness the potential of genomics, to support earlier detection and faster diagnosis of disease, tailor and target treatments and protect against threats to public health.

“I am confident that the launch of Genome UK – our National Genomic Healthcare Strategy – will help us achieve this.”

Anyone who tested positive for COVID-19 and has recovered can sign up for the GenOMICC COVID study.

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