Plans to sequence five million genomes in the next five years were announced by Matt Hancock, the secretary of state for health and social care, last week.
Hancock launched his plan in a speech at the Conservative Party Conference on 2 October. The NHS Genomic Medicine Service which launches this month (see BioNews 957) will expand on existing projects such as the 100,000 Genomes Project and will see one million whole genomes sequenced by the NHS and medical research project UK Biobank. This will be complemented by a further four million genomes to be sequenced in research and industry partnerships.
'Today's commitments form part of our bold aspiration to sequence five million genomes in the UK, using ground-breaking technology to do this within an unprecedented five-year period,' Hancock said.
Where relevant, patients will be asked to give consent for their genomic data to be securely analysed by approved researchers, who will develop new tests and treatments for cancer and rare diseases.
The new NHS Genomic Medicine Service will roll out access to genomic testing within the NHS. From 2019, 'all seriously ill children' will be offered whole genome sequencing as part of their care, as will adults with certain rare diseases and hard-to-treat cancers.
'I'm incredibly excited about the potential for this type of technology to improve the diagnosis and treatment for patients to help people live longer, healthier lives – a vital part of our long-term plan for the NHS,' said Hancock.
At present, it can take years to diagnose a rare disease, but genomics has the potential to speed this up and reduce the number of invasive tests that patients currently have to be given. The more genetic information there is, the earlier clinicians can predict, diagnose and treat the illness in a way that works best for each patient.
As well as helping directly to diagnose and treat patients, the work will also inform scientific knowledge as a whole, and the development of new tests and treatments for a variety of diseases.
The new NHS Genomic Medicine Service will be discussed at this week's free-to-attend Progress Educational Trust event 'Whose Genome Is It Anyway? Big Data and Your DNA', in Edinburgh on Wednesday 10 October.