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Landmark strategy launched to cement UK’s position as global leader in genomics

Monday September 28th, 2020

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock has today heralded the launch of a landmark new strategy that will secure the UK’s future position as a global leader in genomics.scientific research

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

It will drive improvements in healthcare for patients, reducing boundaries between clinical care and research, and continue to deliver innovative new research projects in the UK. The strategy will unite the genomics community behind a shared vision for the future of the system.

The strategy focuses on 3 key areas:

  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 – we 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.

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.

The launch of the strategy comes as Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock calls on others 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. Matt Hancock, who tested positive for coronavirus in March, is urging people who were not hospitalised for their symptoms to give blood 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 UK-wide study, led by the University of Edinburgh as part of the GenOMICC consortium and Genomics England, 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 study is being funded by Illumina, UKRI, NIHR Bioresource, and the Department of Health and Social Care. The genomic data from participants will be compared to people of similar backgrounds to help understand the variations in an individual’s genetic makeup that may lead to a more severe reaction to the virus. The insights gained will help scientists and clinicians find more effective treatments and could help protect the most vulnerable in future outbreaks.

To successfully compare and analyse the data of participants, the study is looking for volunteers who closely match the age and ethnicities of those who were hospitalised.

The study is particularly keen to hear from members of ethnic minority groups and people who are over 68, who research suggests are the most severely affected groups.

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

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock:

“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.”

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