'Genomic medicine has huge implications for the understanding and treatment of rare diseases, cancer and infections,' says Professor Dame Sally Davies' report 'Generation Genome'. Patients should also benefit from speedier diagnosis and receiving the best available treatment.
It is hoped that the cost of sequencing, which continues to fall, will be offset by avoiding the wasted treatments and appointments caused by the current trial-and-error approach. The cost could be further reduced by concentrating the current 'cottage industry' of sequencing and interpreting genomes into a few specialist centres.
Around two-thirds of cancers currently have what are known as 'actionable genes', which allow a range of outcomes to be predicted with much greater accuracy than was previously possible. The number of these genes, and the number of cancers known to have them, are likely to rise as research progresses.
Actionable genes can indicate whether a patient is likely to suffer severe side effects from some treatments, whether a given treatment is likely to be effective, or even how likely a patient's cancer is to recur. These factors, if known, can help clinicians recommend the best treatment options for a given patient.
Sir Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, welcomed the report saying that it 'showcases just how much is now possible in genomics research and care within the NHS'. He told UK newspaper the Telegraph: 'Further understanding and application of genomics will be essential to successfully tackling cancer and saving many more lives from this devastating disease.'
Genome sequencing could also help diagnose individuals with rare diseases, many of which present in children and have a genetic basis. These can often take years to diagnose, and patients may end up seeing multiple specialists before receiving a diagnosis (see BioNews 903).
There are some concerns about data security, however. The NHS track record for IT includes a cyber attack in May this year, and a National Program for IT which consumed over £11 billion between 2002 and 2011 before it was eventually scrapped.
'This technology has the potential to change medicine forever – but we need all NHS staff, patients and the public to recognise and embrace its huge potential,' said Professor Davies.