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UK Launches State-run Genomics Body to Oversee 100K Genomes, Other Initiatives

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The UK plans to launch a new government-owned company focused on applying genomics technologies in clinical care that will oversee the government’s effort to sequence 100,000 genomes, mostly of patients, manage a massive database to match DNA and clinical data, and handle other genome-focused health projects.

UK Department of Health (DH) Secretary Jeremy Hunt unveiled the plan to create the new body, called Genomics England, on the 65th anniversary of the National Health Service.

According to the UK's PHG Foundation, Hunt is scheduled to publicly outline the Genomics England project sometime today to a select audience, to whom he will tell that the goal is to "put the UK at the forefront of the genome revolution worldwide, with whole-genome sequencing linked to patient diagnosis, treatment and care," by 2015.

Owned by the DH, Genomics England will manage contracts for UK-based companies, universities, and hospitals to supply sequencing, data linkage and analysis services. It will be tasked with setting standards for securing patient consent and managing the storage of personal data, and it will have "the independence and clout to drive innovation" in the healthcare system, the department said.

DH said the program has already received a government pledge of £100 million ($149 million), which was already previously provided for as part of the 100K Genomes Project.

"This is an ambitious and timely announcement that plays to two of the UK's great strengths: the NHS and our world-leading medical — and in particular, genomic — research," Ted Bianco, acting director of the Wellcome Trust, said in a statement. "By integrating these and ensuring the correct safeguards are in place to protect patients' data, this initiative has the potential to better diagnose and treat cancer, rare diseases and infections, and to revolutionize, and increasingly personalize, healthcare."

The 100k Genomes Project will sequence the genomes of 100,000 patients, or infections in patients, over five years, and will focus initially on sequencing lung diseases, infectious and rare diseases, and pediatric cancers.

DH said that it will fund Genomics England "in the medium term," and that any surplus money from the company will be put back into healthcare funding.

The company will be chaired by John Chisolm, former chair of the Medical Research Council.

"This project represents a great opportunity to translate our world class genomic science into world leadership in genomic medicine. Genomics England will create a dataset of anonymized whole genome sequences matched with clinical data at a scale unique in the world.," Chisolm said in a statement.

Another goal of the company, and this project, is to train a generation of UK investigators to develop new genomics-based breakthroughs.

Genomics England will develop its structure and business plan in the coming weeks, and Chisolm will head an effort to engage with patient groups and working groups on ethics, science, and data.

Mark Caulfield, a senior researcher at Queen Mary University of London, will serve as Genomics England's chief scientist, DH said.