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UK Budget Cuts Whack Genetics Commission

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The UK’s Human Genetics Commission and a number of other medical and health-related groups will be disbanded as part of a cross-government budget-cutting and reform effort, the HGC and Department of Health said today.

The HGC, which serves as the government’s advisory body on developments in human genetics issues, will be disbanded and then replaced by a committee of experts working for the DH, which will develop plans for the transition.

The review was conducted by the Cabinet Office of Arm’s Length Bodies and Non-Departmental Public Bodies, which was tasked with looking into the costs and benefits of a number of quasi-autonomous non-governmental organizations, or quangos, for places to make cuts.

For the DH, the review covered 40 health-related quangos, including HGC and other groups with involvement in biotechnology and biomedical policy.

The HGC has several monitoring groups of experts focused on topic areas including: genetics and identity; genetic discrimination; intellectual property; databases; genetic services; and genetics and insurance.

HGC recently released a common framework of principles for direct-to-consumer genetic tests, covering marketing, consumer counseling, consent and data protection, lab analysis, and other issues.

Other healthcare and life sciences-related quango groups that have been affected by the Cabinet Office’s plan include the advisory committees on infections and pathogens, a device safety group, a tissue commission, and a an insurance commission, among others.

HGC Chair Jonathan Montgomery said in a letter to HGC members that the decision to replace the group with an in-house committee “reflects the need to reduce costs” and added that he does not think that the decision “reflects a change in the government’s attitude towards genetics and genomics.”

Montgomery said that HGC’s scheduled plenary meeting in December will continue as planned, as will a workshop on intellectual property and a meeting on discrimination scheduled for this month, and a business committee meeting next month.

“The HGC has a reputation for the high quality and accessibility of its work and I know that the Department of Health greatly values the work of the HGC and the role it has played in promoting understanding of genetic issues,” Montgomery continued.

“Today’s changes continue our work to increase the accountability and transparency of public services, as well as ensuring that the advisory mechanisms we have are fit for purpose,” Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said in a statement.

“The bodies who provide essential independent advice to the department will continue to do so, but they will be streamlined and made more accountable so that they operate in the most cost effective way…. We will continue to support the organizations involved through this period of transition, ensuring we continue to get the highest quality independent advice from experts to inform policy decisions,” Lansley added.

HGC also has issued recommendations supporting the National Institutes of Health’s project to create a genetic testing registry, arguing for streamlining the regulation of genomics research, and it has issued proposals for the use of DNA in forensic applications.

Other UK quangos affected by the Cabinet’s budget-cutting plan include: the Advisory Committee on Antimicrobial Resistance and Healthcare Associated Infections and the Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens, both of which will be reconstituted in the DH; the Committee on the Safety of Devices, which will be reconstituted as a Medicine and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency committee; the Human Tissue Authority and the Genetics and Insurance Commission, both of which will be abolished and its responsibilities will be picked up by other agencies; the Gene Therapy Advisory Committee, which has already been abolished and some of its functions to be moved to a new research regulator; and the Scientific Advisory Committee, which is to be reconstructed as a DH committee.