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Independent Report Urges UK Support for Genomics, Other Life Sciences

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – Genomic research and clinical applications are among the areas in the life sciences poised to contribute significantly to the UK economy over the next five years or more, according to an independent strategic report shared with the UK government by life sciences industry representatives this week.

The "Life Sciences Industrial Strategy," established with input from representatives across the industry, outlined opportunities in genomics, diagnostics, digital health, and other biological and technological applications, and set out a series of recommendations for the government and National Health Service (NHS) in post-Brexit UK.

"As the UK plans its future outside the European Union, identifying and supporting specific sectors of the economy to grow and expand quickly becomes a clear priority," John Bell, chairman of the University of Oxford's office of strategic coordination of health research, and his co-authors wrote. "The global life sciences industry is expected to reach [more than] $2 trillion in gross value by 2023 (approximately $1.6 trillion today). Given its importance to the innovation economy in the UK and its potential for growth there are few, if any, sectors more important to support as part of the industrial strategy."

The new life sciences strategy, which is intended to offer guidance for the sector over several years, addressed challenges related to maintaining scientific competitiveness and a skilled life sciences workforce, tapping into appropriate tools for analyzing digital research and patient data, spurring related industrial and manufacturing growth, and treatment and technology accessibility through the NHS.

On the science side, for example, it called for the establishment of a health advanced research program (HARP) to tackle high-risk research projects and research related to healthy aging, early diagnostics, and chronic disease detection. That included recommendations for building on, and expanding, advances made in genomics — from genomic testing integration to support for large scale sequencing studies to inform future precision medicine efforts.

Within the HARP framework, the report touched on the importance of bringing together genome sequence and phenotype data produced by NHS, while securing funds and informatics infrastructure to do whole-genome sequencing on some 500,000 UK Biobank participants with the help of industry collaboration and Genomics England leadership. It also highlighted potential NHS and commercial sequencing contributions to whole-genome sequencing pipelines and programs in cancer treatment and infectious disease tracking and diagnosis, respectively.

Genomics also came to the forefront among report recommendations related to large-scale clinical trials proposed for the UK, as well as guidelines focused on potential life sciences collaborations with industry players and digital innovation and data security.

While it did not tackle specific pricing issues stemming from life sciences industry issues, the report did recommend a funding coalition to establish HARP and tackle the types of "moonshot" programs proposed. More broadly, the authors noted that "many of the steps outlined in this strategy are opportunities uniquely available to the NHS and could not be realized in many insurance-based healthcare systems."

In a statement, Genomics England Executive Director John Chisholm praised the report for "recognizing as it does the critical role that genomics will play in the future health, well-being, and economic prosperity of this country," adding that, "Today's report gives us the blueprint to build on our global lead in genomic science to drive NHS transformation, improve health outcomes, and realize material economic benefits for UK plc."