02 May 2017
ByAppeared in BioNews 898
The report focuses on the 100,000 Genomes Project (which was launched by the UK government in 2012 and was originally due to conclude this year) and on current developments and challenges in genome editing, particularly in light of the possibilities afforded by CRISPR.
The Committee decided in February this year to split the inquiry (launched in 2016) into two parts: one focused on human health, and one addressing other applications. The surprise upcoming general election has meant that the first part of the inquiry has had to be concluded earlier than anticipated, while the second part of the inquiry has been set aside for the foreseeable future.
The report does not offer firm conclusions, but instead flags up key issues that the inquiry has raised so far, and that might usefully be explored further by the next Science and Technology Committee. Parliamentary business is now suspended in the run-up to 8 June, and all Commons select committees will be reconstituted from the ranks of newly elected MPs after the election has taken place.
Of the 100,000 Genomes Project, the report asks why the government established a private company (Genomics England) rather than a more conventional arm's-length body to pursue the project. It also asks why the project is currently behind schedule, and how the project came to focus on particular cancers and rare diseases, with responsibility for the project's infectious diseases arm being transferred to Public Health England.
The report addresses the relationship of the 100,000 Genomes Project to the NHS, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and the Department of Health. Issues raised include whether and how the project is being integrated into mainstream healthcare, if the project's infrastructure demands are being satisfactorily met, and related social and ethical concerns surrounding data security and consent to involvement in research.
On genome editing, the report is interested in how the UK research environment compares to the situation elsewhere, and how this field is regulated nationally and internationally (in the context of the UK's decision to leave the European Union). The report flags up the importance of distinguishing between germline genome editing (which results in heritable changes) and somatic genome editing (which does not), as well as various issues related to human embryo research (including how it is licensed and whether there is a case for reviewing the longstanding fourteen-day limit).
The report notes that 'our inquiry has been timely because advances in genomics and genome editing mean that both fields are now being used in our health service, because the 100,000 Genomes Project is approaching its original completion date, and because Brexit will significantly alter the opportunities and challenges in these emerging areas'.