UK Government Goal: Sequence 5 Million Genomes Within 5 Years

Matt Hancock, British Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, recently announced his goal to sequence 5 million genomes in the UK in the next 5 years. Where deemed fit, patients will be asked for their consent to have their genome sequenced and analyzed by scientists. Researchers will use this data to enhance development of new treatments and tests for many diseases.

Starting in 2019, children with serious illnesses suspected to be genetic disorders will be offered genomic sequencing as part of their healthcare. Adults with similar uncommon diseases and complex cancers will be offered this option as well, with the aim being to identify genetic links to these problematic conditions. The ambitious effort to sequence 5 million genomes will be supplemented by expertise provided by experts like UK Research and Innovation, the NHS, and others.

The NHS Genomic Medicine Service plans to expand on existing projects, such as the 100,000 Genomes Project, and have 1 million whole genomes sequenced by both the NHS and research project UK Biobank in the coming 5 years. These national efforts will greatly aid Hancock in reaching his unprecedented goal of having 5 million genomes sequenced in 5 years.

Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock

“I’m proud to announce we are expanding our 100,000 Genomes Project so that one million whole genomes will now be sequenced by the NHS and the UK Biobank,” said Hancock (pictured to right). “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.”

Currently, diagnosis of rare diseases can take years in some cases, potentially leading to fatalities that could have been prevented with earlier diagnosis. With this massive genomic project, researchers in the UK will have a large bank of genomic data to use in linking genetic abnormalities to harmful diseases, hopefully leading to prevention and protection against these conditions.

“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,” reads the statement released by the Department of Health and Social Care on Tuesday.

Hancock hopes to achieve his lofty goal with support from powerful genomics firms in the UK. Genomics England Chief Scientist, Professor Mark Caulfield, expressed his optimism in stating, “Genomics England welcomes this ambitious new vision for genomics, which assures the UK will continue to be the global leader in the application of genomic medicine. As the UK database expands to 5 million sequences and beyond, new insights will help to save many lives, both in the NHS and around the world.”

Marc Stapley, Executive Vice President of Strategy and Corporate Development at Illumina (one of Genomics England’s sequencing partners) also chimed in, saying, “As the industrial partner of Genomics England for the 100,000 Genomes Project, Illumina supports the scale and vision of the UK government in its endeavors to place genomic medicine as one of the pillars of healthcare.“

Sources: Gov.UKGenomics England