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First Implementation Plan for Genome UK

Volume 695: debated on Wednesday 19 May 2021

My noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Innovation, Lord Bethell of Romford, has today made the following written ministerial statement:

Last September, after months of hard work across the UK genomics community, I was delighted to launch Genome UK—the UK’s genomic healthcare strategy.

Ultimately, the strategy set out a vision to create the most advanced genomic healthcare system in the world to deliver better healthcare at a lower cost.

Thanks to achievements made over the last 70 years, from the discovery of the structure of DNA to the completion of the 100,000 Genomes Project, the UK is rightly recognised as a world-leader in genomics.

But for the UK to remain at the forefront of international competition in genomic research and healthcare, and attract investment, it is essential that we start to deliver on the commitments set out in our strategy.

I am therefore delighted to inform the House of the launch of the 2021-22 Genome UK implementation plan. This publication will demonstrate the great strides we have already made in delivering on our vision and outlines the clear actions we will progress over the next year.

This implementation plan has been agreed by members of the National Genomics Board, a group of senior life sciences sector stakeholders, which I chair with Sir John Bell. Over the last six months, we have engaged with our delivery partners and key stakeholders to identify projects and programmes that can be delivered during 2021-22.

We have drafted a diverse and ambitious package of actions and as part of this, I am pleased to announce the following:

A major drive, led by Genomics England, to improve the diversity of genomic data, addressing the historic under-representation of data from minority ethnic communities in genomic datasets, which results in health inequalities. The work will include widespread community engagement alongside sequencing and analytic tool development.

The roll-out of whole genome sequencing to patients with a suspected rare disease and certain cancers in the NHS Genomic Medicine Service, in partnership with Genomics England. This is a truly transformational milestone for patients, and for our overarching one million genomes commitment—our ambition to sequence 500,000 genomes in the NHS and 500,000 in UK Biobank, creating the most advanced genomic healthcare system in the world.

Proof of concept work, led by Genomics England in partnership with the NHS, to deliver the first phase of a next-generation approach for the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, integrating multiple data sources and new technologies to support faster and more comprehensive genomic testing for cancer in line with the NHS long term plan.

Our Future Health (formerly known as the Accelerating Detection of Disease challenge) will help drive developments in the next generation of diagnostics and clinical tools—including the evaluation of polygenic risk scores (PRS), drug discovery, and smart clinical trials. In 2021, Our Future Health will pilot participant recruitment processes to build towards their five million participant ambition. Our Future Health will conduct feedback pilot studies in 2022 to test approaches to deliver health-related information, including PRS, to participants.

NIHR, MRC and Wellcome Trust will, over the next five years, provide funding to the Global Alliance for Genomics and Health (GA4GH) to develop standards and policies for sharing genomic and related health data. GA4GH aims to ensure its standards are easily accessible and ready for use by global genomic programs and data sharing initiatives. It will proactively engage stakeholders at national and organisational level to drive uptake of GA4GH standards.

Given that Genome UK runs over 10 years, some of its 45 commitments are either long term or will be delivered through cumulative action over the coming years. Implementation of the strategy will therefore be phased, so we have mainly focused on actions taking place this year. Genomics is a fast-moving field, and a phased approach will allow us to review our commitments and reflect emerging science and the latest research findings. Our intention is to align future iterations of this plan with Government funding cycles.

These commitments are just some of the first important steps on the journey to realising the vision set out in Genome UK. However, achieving all our objectives will require new investment over the next decade, with continued collaboration and funding from the public, private and charity sectors becoming ever more important.

Genomic research and innovation will transform healthcare in this country to benefit patients and drive our economic recovery. Given our reputation as a world-leader in genomic healthcare and research, it has the potential to play a key role in delivering our wider goal of becoming a global life sciences.

This iteration of the implementation plan is largely England-focused, but some aspects are UK-wide. For example, the world-leading research programs, including COG-UK, the consortium which delivered large scale covid genome sequencing. We have therefore developed this plan with the support of our partners in the devolved Administrations.

We will continue to work with our partners from the devolved Administrations, the NHS, industry and research, via the National Genomics Board and other venues, to ensure that we deliver on our goal to create the most advanced genomic healthcare system in the world. I also want to emphasise that engagement and dialogue with the healthcare workforce, patients and the diverse UK population, will be at the heart of the journey to reach the vision set out in the strategy.