Prime Minister David Cameron backed the project, saying: 'This agreement will see the UK lead the world in genetic research within years'. He added that the research would 'help deliver better tests, better drugs and above all better care for patients'.
According to Genomics England, the body owned by the Department of Health that is overseeing the project, the research will 'provide a lifeline to thousands of families affected by rare genetic diseases and cancers'.
Around 40,000 NHS patients and their relatives will have their DNA sequenced, with cancer patients having two genomes analysed: their healthy cells and their cancer cells. Of the 100,000 sequenced genomes, 75,000 will be from people and the remainder will be these 'disease' genomes.
'Twenty years from now there will be therapies, instead of chemo, that will be a much more targeted approach to treatment', said Professor Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, the Telegraph reports. 'We will look back in 20 years' time and the blockbuster chemotherapy drugs that gave you all those nasty side effects will be a thing of the past'.
The project is currently in a pilot phase, and around 1,000 genomes are expected to be sequenced by the end of this year. The main phase will begin next year, and 100,000 genomes will have been sequenced by the end of 2017, although the project is expected to continue after that.
Genomics England will run the project in a £78m partnership with gene sequencing company Illumina, who will in turn invest £162 million into the work over four years. The Wellcome Trust is investing £27m into a gene-sequencing site in Cambridge, and the Medical Research Council will spend £24m on developing the large computer database needed to analyse and interpret the data. NHS England will also contribute £20m to set up NHS Genomics Medicine Centres across the country.
Critics of the project have expressed concerns over patient confidentiality. Ross Anderson, a security expert at Cambridge University, told the Guardian: 'Anybody who says they can protect the privacy of your genomic data by anonymising it is mistaken'. But the Government insists that 'participation in the project will be based on consent, and people's data will be strictly protected through Genomics England's secure data services'.