New strategy to deliver genomic healthcare announced by UK government

The Department of Health and Social Care has released an implementation plan to deliver genomic care to patients, in an effort to improve diagnosis and treatment.  

Genome UK: 2021 to 2022 implementation plan outlines 27 commitments made by the government that has been released online today, and is a result of a collaboration from across the genomic industry. 

Chris Wigley, Genomics England CEO, said: “Since the days of Darwin, Rosalind Franklin, Crick and Watson and Fred Sanger, the UK has been at the forefront of genomic science. With this publication it’s exciting to see the next chapter of that story coming to life. Our ecosystem has come together as never before through the difficult times of the pandemic – and this implementation plan will allow us to build on this collaboration between all of the world-leading genomics institutions in the UK.” 

As part of the 27 commitments, 5 high priority actions have been announced to advance genomic care and are listed below.  

  1. Faster diagnosis and treatment of cancer using genomics through partnership working between Genomics England and NHS England/Improvement to identify technologies that could be used to enable faster and more comprehensive genomic testing for cancer. 
  1. Whole genome sequencing for patients with rare diseases and cancer as part of the NHS Genomic Medicine Service. This builds on the success of the 100,000 Genomes Project, making the NHS the only healthcare system worldwide to routinely offer this life-changing test for earlier diagnosis. 
  1. Engage closely with different communities to ensure diverse datasets, through bespoke screening programmes. This will ensure everyone across the UK can benefit from genomic healthcare and our genomic databases are representative of our diverse population. This is essential for equitable access to new techniques, such as polygenic risk scores (PRS) which compares a person’s risk to others with a different genetic makeup, and pharmacogenomics, which examines the role of the genome in the body’s response to drugs. 
  1. Our Future Health, the UK’s largest-ever research programme, will begin recruiting up to 5 million people representative of the UK population, to collect and link multiple sources of health information, helping researchers to discover new ways to detect and prevent the development of diseases. This was originally established as the Accelerating Detection of Disease challenge through £79 million of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) funding. 
  1. Develop global standards and policies for sharing genomic and related health data. The National Institute for Health Research, Medical Research Council and Wellcome Trust will, over the next 5 years, provide a total of £4.5 million of funding to the Global Alliance for Genomics and Health, ensuring standards are easily accessible and usable by global genomic programmes and data-sharing initiatives, placing the UK at the forefront of secure sharing of international genomic and health-related data. 

The release of the plan follows on from Genome UK – the future of healthcare, a report published in 2020 which detailed the vision for lower-cost genomic care. The plan released today has specific commitments, for the UK and England. The work published last year also saw the conception of COG-UK, a genome sequencing consortium.  

Professor Dame Sue Hill, NHS England Chief Scientific Officer, said: “The NHS is already a global leader in genomics and has introduced a range of new cutting-edge tests for people with rare diseases and cancer over the last year, despite the pandemic. Genomics can truly transform the way patient care is delivered, helping to predict and prevent disease, personalise treatments and ultimately save lives.” 

Genome UK: 2021 to 2022 implementation plan