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Recent advances in genomics herald arrival of 'personalised healthcare'

1 September 2009
Appeared in BioNews 523

BioNews reporting from the British Society for Human Genetics (BSHG) annual conference in Warwick:

Recent technological advances promise to make some of the hopes raised by the completion of the Human Genome Project a reality, Professor John Burn and Dr Brent Zanke told delegates at the annual meeting of the British Society for Human Genetics (BSHG), held at the University of York from 31 August - 2 September.

There has been a growing impatience for a demonstrable impact of new genetics research findings on medical care. For a few diseases, new fast, cheap genetic tests to help with prediction and treatment may soon become a reality. However, for most common conditions, not enough is yet know about the genes involved and how they interact with non-genetic factors to justify developing a commercial service, warned Professor Burn and Dr Zanke.

Professor Burn, from Newcastle University, reported the launch of spin-out company Newgene Ltd, co-owned by the University and Newcastle Hospitals NHS Trust. One of its first offerings will be to provide high throughput sequencing to search for genetic mutations, in partnership with NHS diagnostic labs. It has access to 'next generation' parallel sequencing which can sequence genes 30 times faster than current methods. Professor Burn said: 'One team with one machine can now easily outperform what massive genomegenometargeted 'personalised' treatments such as the new PARP inhibitor drugs for cancers caused by mutations in the BRCA 1 and 2 genes to be made available to those who need them in a practical time scale in the clinic.

Dr Brent Zanke, Chief Medical Officer of ArcticDx Inc, a private Canadian personalised healthcare company, agrees that a major shift towards 'personalised disease prevention' could be imminent. He said: 'My prediction for the next few years is that we are going to see some early medical and commercial successes and the concepts will then become main stream. Big pharma will start investing and we will see a torrent of discoveries and a new therapeutic economic model emerge. Look for the first applications in malignant screening programs. Colon cancer, breast cancer, age-related macular degeneration and potentially coronary artery disease, may be some of the first to become part of routine clinical care'.
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