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New Group Targets Use of Genomics by UK's NHS

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The UK's Department of Health will join with other departments to examine recent advances in genetic and genomic research, with the goal of assessing how they can be best translated into new clinical services by the National Health Service.

The new Human Genomics Strategy Group will "monitor advances in genetic and genomics research, both basic and translational, to evaluate their benefit to healthcare services in the NHS," the department said in a recently-issued 35-page report. According to that report, the panel — whose number of members was not stated in the report — will consist of "key individuals and organisations in the field of genetic research and its application to medicine."

"The Government remains committed to genetics research and aims to maintain the UK's position as a world leader in associated health research, development and innovation," the report concluded in an introduction by Gillian Merron, minister for public health, and Lord Paul Drayson, minister for science and innovation.

The Government Response to the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee Inquiry Into Genomic Medicine, issued Monday, was intended to answer a July study that recommended that the Office for the Strategic Co-ordination of Health Research, which coordinates public sector health research in the UK, update a 2003 "white paper" report on genomic medicine.

The 2003 report, Our Future: Realising the Potential of Genetics in the NHS, led to the government spending £50 million over three years to boost genetics skills within the NHS, as well as forming the Human Genetics Commission "to provide expert advice on developments in human genetics and the social and ethical issues raised."

No update to the 2003 white paper is needed, according to the health department. It cited a 2008 review of the white paper that led to new measures that include adding genetic services into the mainstream diagnostic pathway; promoting their understanding across the NHS; and generating new knowledge and applications.

"The White Paper and its consequent review are proof of the Government's commitment to a strategic vision to use genetic and genomic advances in the UK," the report concluded. "It is important that any strategy for future NHS clinical services builds upon the extensive work that has already been conducted via this initiative."

The health department's response was criticized by the PHG Foundation, which said that it "largely rehearses past achievements and attempts to make current processes fit future needs without acknowledging the scale and complexity of what will be required.

"In the main the response from Government seems disappointingly lacking in substance," the foundation argued in a statement by PHG Program Director Hilary Burton and Alison Hall, PHG's project manager for law.

Also rejected by the department was the Lords committee's recommendation that the National Institute for Health Research "ring-fence," or set aside, funding specifically for research into the clinical utility and validity of genetic and genomic tests within the NHS. The health department cited increased funding this year for the existing Health Technology Assessment program, created to research the effectiveness, costs and broader impact of treatments and tests for NHS healthcare providers, administrators, and patients.

"Any appropriate research projects can apply for funding, including those concerned with the clinical utility and validity of genetic and genomic tests in the NHS," the report concluded.

Among other topics addressed in the report:

• Bioinformatics hiring: The department said it has begun procurement work toward a Centre for Workforce Intelligence that will advise the NHS on how to ramp up the hiring of bioinformatics professionals. The center is set to begin operations in 2010.

• Genomic medicine training: The health department said its National Genetics Education and Development Centre Steering Group expects early in 2010 to finish a review of whether the center can oversee the training of the UK's general medical and nursing workforce in genomic medicine and the use of genetic testing for common diseases. The review is designed to establish a national training program in genomic medicine for non-genetic medical and nursing professionals, either through the NGEDC or another entity.

• Personalized medicine: The Medicines Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency will publish a report that may include recommendations for promoting drug choice and targeting drugs to specific patient groups, following an October forum organized by the agency and the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry.

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