Press release

Genomic innovation will better target treatment in the NHS

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Human Genomics Strategy Group publishes its report to government today on genomic technology

Issued on behalf of The Human Genomics Strategy Group

Thousands of patients will benefit from tests to match treatment to their DNA

NHS patients should be able to benefit from genomic technology which can improve the health service’s understanding of the nature of disease and mean that treatment can be tailored to patients’ individual genetic make up - providing the right treatment to the right patient.

In its report to government on genomic technology published today, the Human Genomics Strategy Group, chaired by Professor Sir John Bell, highlights the UK’s achievements in genetics research to date and proposes a strategic vision to realise the future benefit of genomics. 

Considerable government investment over the past decade - more than £50 million - has meant that genetic tests for more than 1,000 diseases, including sickle cell anaemia, cystic fibrosis and some forms of cancer, are now available via the NHS. This has resulted in large numbers of patients and their families benefiting from a precise diagnosis. And now genomic technology enables accurate molecular tests, often before the disease becomes more advanced, so the patients can receive the right treatment sooner.

The independent cross-government advisory group was set up in response to the 2009 House of Lords report on genomic medicine. It draws on expertise from across Government and research institutes and makes six recommendations to government:

The recommendations are:

• to develop a cross-cutting strategic document, to set out the direction on genomic technology adoption in the NHS;

• to develop a national central genomic data storage facility;

• that the NHS Commissioning Board should lead on developing genomic technology adoption;

• to work to develop a service delivery model for genomic technologies;

• that the NHS should continue to develop genomics education and training;  and

• to raise public awareness of genomic technology and its benefits. 

Chair of the Human Genomics Strategy Group, Professor Sir John Bell said:

“Genomics expands our knowledge beyond single gene analysis to the whole genome, increasing our ability to gauge an individual’s risk of disease and support better diagnosis and treatment. The UK is a leader in genomic research. 

“The Human Genomics Strategy Group wants to see this position maintained - and built upon.  This will take a concerted effort from all the key players in research, academia, industry and the NHS.

“Our recommendations to the Government lay out key steps that can be taken now and in the near future to realise this goal.

“Adopting the recommendations in our report would lead to further revolutionary developments in our ability to diagnose, treat and prevent disease, and I urge the Government to consider these.”

The government will respond to the six recommendations in due course, but the Health Secretary has today announced that the NHS will take forward plans to widen out access to molecular tests to more cancer patients, which uses genomic technology as a tool to provide targeted treatment for the individual patient.

In the past, the blanket prescription of drugs has meant cancer patients received a range of drugs, which, it was hoped, would benefit them. But in fact only some patients’ cancers would respond.  But now testing of tumours and patients will be able to tell clinicians in advance whether a patient is likely to respond to particular drug therapies.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said:

“The promise of genomic technology, with its capacity to improve our understanding of the nature of disease and how our genes can inform our response to therapy, is immense but as yet developmental. The ability to use molecular testing of cancers to match individuals to the most appropriate treatment is revolutionary.

“The new developments can help patients to get the best treatments to improve their chances of survival and their quality of life. I am very pleased to announce that we are going to develop a new commissioning and funding structure for molecular tests for cancer.  This means there will be a formal structure - led by the NHS Commissioning Board - which will mean that more cancer patients will get access to these tests.

“We want to make sure that all patients can benefit from these tests - as soon as the tests are recommended by NICE. We have therefore been working to establish a new system to ensure speedy introduction of high quality tests. This is the way forward for the future.” 

Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts said:

“Genomics research is a real strength in the UK and has the potential to dramatically improve our understanding of disease. This excellent report demonstrates the major impacts of advances in this promising area of science. It provides a pathway to build on and exploit the UK’s expertise for the benefit of patients and society.”

Sir Mark Walport, director of the Wellcome Trust, which spends more than £100 million a year on genomic research, endorsed the recommendations of the report.
 
“Our advancing ability to read and understand the genetic code is already beginning to spark transformative improvements in healthcare, by refining diagnosis and revealing the processes of disease. The Government must act now to deliver Sir John Bell’s excellent recommendations, so that the NHS builds the capabilities and skills it needs if patients are to benefit.
 
“We particularly support the proposal to link genomic data to patients’ anonymised medical records through a secure national centre, which would create an unparalleled resource for research and diagnosis without compromising confidentiality or privacy. It is also important to develop medical informatics services that can make sense of complex genomic data, and to update professional training to meet the challenges of the genomic age.
 
“We are committed to working with the Government to address these challenges, building on the world-class genomics and bioinformatics expertise available in the UK at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and the European Bioinformatics Institute.”

Notes to editors
For further information contact the Human Genomics Strategy Group press office via the Department of Health press office on 020 7210 5221.

Read Building on our inheritance: Genomic technology in healthcare

The HGSG was set up in 2010 with a remit to:

• monitor advances in genetic and genomics research, both basic and translational, to evaluate their benefit to healthcare services in the NHS and;
• develop, in partnership with other stakeholders, a vision for genomics in the NHS.