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World’s largest genetics project to tackle deadly diseases launches

A new ground-breaking project in the fight against life-threatening illnesses has launched today, 11 September 2019.

The £200 million whole genome sequencing project is being created, forming a partnership of pharmaceutical firms and health experts which will examine and sequence the genetic code of 500,000 volunteers at the UK Biobank, based in Stockport.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said:

“Britain has a proud history of putting itself at the heart of international collaboration and discovery. Over 60 years ago, we saw the discovery of DNA in Cambridge by a team of international researchers and today we are going even further. Now we are bringing together experts from around the globe to work in the UK on the world’s largest genetics research project, set to help us better treat life-threatening illnesses and ultimately save lives.

“Breakthroughs of this kind wouldn’t be possible without being open to the brightest and the best from across the globe to study and work in the UK. That’s why we’re unveiling a new route for international students to unlock their potential and start their careers in the UK.”

Genomics research has the potential to create a genuinely predictive, more personalised healthcare system and the UK has a clear desire to seize the opportunities that research in this area offers, which is why the government has committed to carrying out five million analyses of DNA by 2024.

The new project aims to improve health through genetic research, improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of a wide range of serious and life-threatening illnesses including cancer, heart diseases, diabetes, arthritis and dementia.

Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom said:

“Today’s funding will support one of the world’s most ambitious gene sequencing programmes ever undertaken, reflecting the UK’s determination to remain at the forefront of scientific endeavour and progress.

“Its results could transform the field of genetic repeated research – unlocking the causes of some of the most terrible diseases and how we can best tackle them. It will be a major step forward for individually tailored treatment plans, and will help us better understand why some people get certain diseases while others don’t.”

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said:

“I am incredibly excited by the potential of genomics to change the way we think about disease and healthcare. In an ageing society with an increasing burden of chronic diseases, it is vital that we diagnose earlier, personalise treatment and where possible prevent diseases from occurring altogether.

“This project will help unlock new treatments and grow our understanding of how genetics effects our risk of disease. It is one part of our world leading set of genomics programmes, including the NHS’ Genomics Medicine Service and the Accelerated Detection of Disease challenge, and shows that the UK is the go-to destination for genomics research and development.”

The UK Biobank recruited 500,000 people aged between 40 and 69 years between 2006 and 2010 from across the country. They have provided blood, urine and saliva samples for future analysis, detailed information about themselves and agreed to have their health followed on an anonymous basis.

Much of the sequencing will be by experts at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, based in Cambridge, and the results will help the NHS treat patients better.

Through the Biobank research, industry can work with experts to create new treatments and preventative measures which will help those suffering from illnesses and may eventually reveal why some people develop diseases and others do not.

Funding for the genome project comes from a consortium formed by the government’s research and innovation agency, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) with £50 million through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, £50 million from the research organisation, Wellcome.

A further £100 million has come from four of the world’s leading biopharmaceutical and healthcare companies Amgen, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Johnson & Johnson.

The samples will be sequenced in equal numbers at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Cambridge and the deCOde site in Iceland, from the genome sequencing company, Illumina.

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