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UK Array Firms OGT, BlueGnome See Genomics England Effort as 'Promising Opportunity'

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The UK's Department of Health last week pledged up to £100 million ($148 million) to sequence the genomes of 100,000 patients over the next five years, with an immediate focus on lung and pediatric cancers, and rare and infectious diseases.

Dubbed the 100K Genomes Project, the effort will be coordinated through Genomics England, a company the DH established in April to handle contracts for specialist UK-based companies, universities and hospitals that will supply sequencing, data linkage, and analysis services.

Though the technology at the heart of the effort is next-generation sequencing, Oxford Gene Technology and BlueGnome, arguably the largest UK-based companies that design and sell microarrays, believe that the UK's new initiative could lead to array-based diagnostics.

"While the 100,000 Genomes Project has a focus on whole-genome sequencing there is also a strong realization that custom panels are going to be important in this endeavour," OGT Mike Evans told BioArray News this week.

"We anticipate that the resulting information from large-scale, clinically focused NGS could be used to inform improved design of alternative, more cost-effective diagnostic tests, for example utilizing targeted sequencing panels or microarray technology," he said.

OGT was established in 1995 to manage the patent estate of microarray inventor Edwin Southern, and over the past decade has developed and offered chromosomal microarray, protein biomarker discovery, and next-generation sequencing products and services.

Because of this "extensive experience," Evans said that OGT is "ideally placed to contribute" to the new project. As examples of this experience, he cited OGT's involvement in a number of clinical research grants, including the UK Technology Strategy Board's stratified medicines program for cancer research (BAN 6/14/2011). The company is also taking part in the EU-funded EUCLIDS and Pathseek projects, both of which aim to develop improved tests for infectious disease.

OGT could also draw upon its informatics capabilities to serve Genomics England, Evans noted.

"As with any high-throughput genomic study, one of the key challenges will be handling and making sense of the vast amounts of data generated," Evans said. "Through the delivery of our NGS and microarray software, OGT has a wealth of experience in turning complex data sets into meaningful, actionable results."

Advancing Genomic Medicine

In announcing the project last week, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said in a statement that the UK aims to become the "first country to introduce this technology in its mainstream health system" and to lead the "global race for better tests, better drugs and above all better, more personalized care to save lives."

According to the same July 5 statement from the DH, clinical data collection and sequencing pilot projects will start within a year, followed by a full-scale project based on lessons from the pilots.

Graham Snudden, a cofounder of Illumina-subsidiary BlueGnome, said that the Cambridge, UK-based company is also likely to benefit from the UK's new effort. Last September, San Diego-based Illumina paid $88 million to acquire BlueGnome, which sells arrays and software for detecting chromsomal abnormalities cytogenetics and screening embryos during in vitro fertilization cycles.

In a correspondence with BioArray News, Snudden said that Genomics England project will likely prove just as significant in advancing genomic medicine, as an initiative described in the National Health Service's Genetics White Paper of 2003.

That document, made public in June of that year, pledged £50 million to set out a vision of how patients could benefit in future from advances in genetics, and raise awareness of the potential of genetics in healthcare.

Snudden described how BlueGnome, which was founded in 2002, was "strongly influenced" by the 2003 initiative in developing its microarray platforms, and said that the company sees Genomics England as an "equally promising opportunity to foster innovation among all companies in the industry."

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