UK government to develop global standards and policies to share genomic data

24 May 2021

The UK Government has announced a year-long implementation plan that it hopes will position the UK as a global leader in genomic healthcare.

In 2020, the Government published the Genome UK: the future of healthcare strategy – a paper which set out a ten-year vision to improve genomic research and deliver better healthcare outcomes at lower cost. (See BioNews 1066).

Now, the first steps to realising this vision have been published. Matt Hancock, the health and social care secretary, told the House of Commons: ‘Today we’ve published our Genome UK implementation plan for how we can build on this even further including our commitment to sequence 1 million whole genomes. Because genomics saves lives, and I’m determined the UK stays at the forefront of this vital new technology.’

Working with partners across the genomics community, the newly published Genome UK: 2021 to 2022 implementation plan sets out 27 clear and tangible commitments that will be delivered over the next 12 months to improve care, treatment and diagnosis using genome sequencing.

These commitments are varied and wide ranging, but include five high priority actions, such as the faster diagnosis and treatment of cancers and rare diseases.

Additionally, the key priorities call for more ethnically diverse genomic datasets to be created, and the recruitment of five million people to take part in research to accelerate the detection of disease.

As part of the work, the Global Alliance for Genomics and Health will receive £4.5 million funding from the UK’s National Institute for Health Research, the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust to develop and promote global standards and policies for sharing genomic health data.

The plan also emphasises the importance of public involvement and engagement throughout the year’s work.

Minister for innovation Lord Bethell said, ‘The UK has a proud history in developing genetic and genomic technologies which improve the lives of patients across the country and globally… This implementation plan demonstrates the great strides we have already made since the launch of Genome UK and outlines the actions we are taking to progress key commitments over the next year.’

Lastly, the work also builds upon the 100,000 Genomes Project, with the Government now committing to sequencing one million whole genomes – 500,000 genomes in the National Health Service (NHS) and 500,000 in the UK Biobank – in a bid to not only transform healthcare in the UK but also to create jobs and bolster the economy.

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