UK embarks on new genome sequencing project

Out-Law News | 13 Sep 2019 | 9:27 am | 1 min. read

Anonymised human genomes stored by the UK Biobank are to be sequenced by health researchers in a project part-funded by pharmaceutical companies in a move aimed at supporting the development of personalised treatments for diseases.

The UK government confirmed a new £200 million whole genome sequencing project on Wednesday.

Under the plans, health researchers, including those from four large pharmaceutical companies, will "examine and sequence the genetic code of 500,000 volunteers at the UK Biobank". The research is to be carried out at the Cambridge site of the Wellcome Sanger Institute and at a separate site in Iceland, the government said.

The results "will help the NHS treat patients better", it said.

Sara Marshall, head of clinical research and physiological sciences at Wellcome, said: "This exciting new project will help scientists and doctors develop new ways of preventing, diagnosing and treating a range of life changing diseases such as cancer and dementia. By sequencing the genomes of the UK Biobank participants, the research community will have an unprecedented resource to gain new insights into human disease."

"This work would not be possible without the generous support of the 500,000 participants of the UK Biobank who, without any direct benefit to themselves, have allowed their lives to be studied through blood tests, body scans and information from their medical records all in the hope that it will benefit others," she said.

Partners in the initiative, who together are providing half the funding for the project, are Amgen, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Johnson & Johnson.

Mene Pangalos, executive vice president of biopharmaceuticals R&D at AstraZeneca, said: "Whole genome sequencing on this scale is unprecedented, and through this collaboration we hope to unlock the potential of genomics to evolve our understanding of complex diseases such as cancer, heart disease and chronic kidney disease. These new insights will guide our drug discovery programme and will help us bring innovative new precision medicines to patients who need them most urgently."

The genome sequencing in the project should provide insights into why people develop particular diseases and others do not, and could help with the discovery of "more precise treatments for a range of conditions tailored to the genetic makeup of an individual and help predict and prevent life-changing diseases", the government said.

"Through this research, industry will be able to work with experts to create new products and services which will help those suffering from illnesses," it said.