- £105m to speed up diagnosis of rare genetic diseases in newborns, potentially resulting in life-saving interventions for thousands of babies
- Additional funding to kickstart programmes to help improve the accuracy and speed of cancer diagnosis and tackle health inequalities
- Part of new three-year plan to roll out new technologies across the health and care system, bolstering the UK’s position as a life sciences superpower
Patients with cancer and children born with treatable rare genetic diseases are set to benefit from earlier diagnosis and faster access to treatment, following a £175m boost to cutting-edge genomics research announced by the Health and Social Care Secretary.
The funding will enable research which could deliver world-leading genomic healthcare to patients, which involves the study of people’s DNA.
The boost is part of a new three-year plan to develop, evaluate, and roll out new technologies across the health and care system and life sciences sector, bolstering the UK’s position as a life sciences superpower.
- £105m to kickstart a world-leading research study, led by Genomics England in partnership with the NHS, to explore the effectiveness of using whole genome sequencing to find and treat rare genetic diseases in newborn babies. For example, rare genetic thyroid hormone conditions, which are not detectable by the routine NHS heel prick test and can cause developmental and learning difficulties and longer-term health complications without treatment. The study will sequence the genomes of 100,000 babies and will gather evidence to consider whether this could be rolled out across the country
- An initial £26m to support an innovative cancer programme, led by Genomics England in partnership with the NHS, to evaluate cutting-edge genomic sequencing technology to improve the accuracy and speed of diagnosis for cancer patients and using artificial intelligence to analyse a person’s DNA, alongside other information such as routine scans
- £22m for a programme, led by Genomics England, to sequence the genomes of up to 25,000 research participants of non-European ancestry, who are currently under represented in genomic research, to improve understanding of DNA and its impact on health outcomes. This will help reduce health inequalities and level up patient outcomes across all communities
The Government has also today announced up to £25m of UKRI-MRC funding for a UK-wide new initiative on functional genomics, an area of genomic research which uses molecular tools such as gene editing to improve understanding of how genetic variation leads to disease and support smarter diagnostics and the discovery of new treatments.
The Life Sciences Vision set out in 2021 commits to delivering a world-class offer on functional genomics and the UK is in a strong position to become a leader in this area.
Revolutionising care delivery
These announcements will also build on the world-leading work of the NHS Genomic Medicine Service.
Health and Social Care Secretary, Steve Barclay, said: “We’ve made advancements in so many areas to improve people’s health – from ensuring ground-breaking new medicines get to patients faster to bolstering the NHS workforce to ensure we have record numbers – and this plan, backed by £175m, sets out how we will use the latest genomic technology to go further.
“The potential for genomics to revolutionise the way we deliver healthcare is great – if we can detect treatable illnesses earlier and ensure patients access potentially-life-saving treatment faster, we could improve people’s lives across the county, including thousands of babies through this new pilot.”
Thousands of children are born in the UK every year with a treatable rare condition that could be detected using genome sequencing.
Most rare disorders are genetic and children under the age of five are disproportionately affected.
The potential for genomics to revolutionise the way we deliver healthcare is great – if we can detect treatable illnesses earlier and ensure patients access potentially-life-saving treatment faster
While these conditions are often difficult to identify, genomic testing has already become the main way of providing a diagnosis.
Minister for Health, Will Quince, said: “Genomics is changing the future of healthcare and this plan is a crucial next step in delivering our vision to create the most-advanced genomic healthcare system in the world.
Leading the way
“The UK continues to lead the way in genomics expertise, and this pioneering plan will save lives and ensure we are delivering better health outcomes at lower costs.”
Business Secretary, Grant Shapps, added: “From cancer treatment and diabetes research, to increasing our understanding of rare and undiagnosed diseases; genomic medicine is already transforming lives and helping to create new treatments for all kinds of conditions.
“Outstanding progress is being made across the UK, and this £175m plan sets out how we will use the latest genomic technology to go even further, leveraging the might of our excellent NHS and top researchers to lead the world in using genomics for healthcare, boost growth by supporting high quality jobs, and cement our position as a global science superpower.”
Genomics is changing the future of healthcare and this plan is a crucial next step in delivering our vision to create the most-advanced genomic healthcare system in the world
And NHSE national medical director, Professor Sir Stephen Powis, said: “The NHS is a world leader in genomic medicine, and through the NHS Genomic Medicine Service we are already transforming the lives of thousands of patients with cancer and rare diseases by harnessing the latest technologies to deliver faster and more-accurate diagnoses, more-effective treatments, and predicting and preventing certain conditions.
“This project has the potential to provide yet more powerful tools for NHS teams as they work to save lives and improve life chances for patients, alongside the testing and treatment options that the genomics programme has already provided.”
The money comes after the Government announced £113m of funding last month for innovative research into cutting-edge new treatments including cancer immune therapies or vaccines and game-changing weight loss medication and technologies.
Dr Rich Scott, chief medical officer for Genomics England, said: “This continued investment in genomics means the country is well placed to remain at the forefront and for us to be able to offer the best clinical care for patients.
The commitment to a world-class functional genomics initiative, developed in partnership with industry, will help maintain the UK’s global position
“With the pace of change of knowledge and the emergence of new technologies, it’s crucial that we continue to learn. That’s why our programme will also support research to improve diagnosis and treatment of genomic conditions and into the potential future healthcare uses of genomic data.
“It’s also why we will explore public preferences for how we might support these uses in the future if newborn genome sequencing became routinely offered.”
A flourishing market
Commenting on the opportunities this investment will bring for life sciences companies in the UK, Steve Bates OBE, chief executive of the BioIndustry Association, said: “England’s Genome UK implementation plan sets out key investments that will help make the UK the best place to start and scale new genomics companies.
“This is vital to allow the UK’s thriving ecosystem of genomics SMEs to flourish and benefit patients.
“The commitment to a world-class functional genomics initiative, developed in partnership with industry, will help maintain the UK’s global position.
“Improving SMEs’ access to high-quality genomics data through expanding existing initiatives, as well as through Genomics England’s new diverse data programme, will also support the development of cutting-edge UK innovation.
“The UK BioIndustry Association welcomes the implementation plan and is looking forward to working with government and delivery partners on industry engagement and participation.