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UK Biobank Whole-Genome Sequencing Project Obtains £200M from Pharma, Government, Philanthropy

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The UK government said today that it has formed a strategic partnership with four pharmaceutical firms and a charity to provide £200 million ($247 million) to support sequencing the genomes of hundreds of thousands of participants in the UK Biobank.

The project aims to improve health through genetic research and to advance the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of a variety of illnesses, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, dementia, and chronic kidney disease.

The goal of the project is to sequence the genomes of the 500,000 participants in the UK Biobank, who were recruited across the UK between 2006 and 2010 and provided blood, urine, and saliva samples for analysis, as well as detailed information about their health.

"Today's funding will support one of the world's most ambitious genome sequencing programs ever undertaken, reflecting the UK's determination to remain at the forefront of scientific endeavor and progress," said Andrea Leadsom, the UK's business secretary, in a statement.

UK Research and Innovation, the government's research and innovation agency, is contributing £50 million to the project through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. Another £50 million comes from the Wellcome Trust, a research organization and charity. In addition, Amgen, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, and Johnson & Johnson are providing a total of £100 million.

The Wellcome Sanger Institute and Decode Genetics, a unit of Amgen, will sequence the samples in equal numbers using Illumina sequencing technology. Decode said sequencing is anticipated to be completed by the summer of 2021.

The project, plans for which were announced earlier this year, follows a £34 million pilot study funded by the Medical Research Council, called the Vanguard Project, that aims to sequence the genomes of an initial 50,000 UK Biobank participants by the end of this year.

Illumina's stock was up almost 4 percent, at $286.22 per share, in mid-morning trading on the Nasdaq. Financial analysts noted that the funding announcement alleviates concerns that were raised when Illumina missed its second-quarter revenue target, in part due to a delay in population genomics projects.