Public Policy Projects: UK Government must embrace a genomics revolution to become global life sciences superpower

 

  • UK Government must seize the opportunities offered by advancements made during the Covid-19 pandemic to generate a world leading national genomic ecosystem
  • Genomic data must be diversified through wider public engagement to prevent “health data poverty”
  • UK must invest global genomic surveillance will enable faster identification of future pandemics

The UK must “seize the moment” to lead the world in health and genomic medicine, this is according to a new report from Public Policy Projects (PPP). In their latest report, PPP call for the UK to embrace a “genomics revolution”, made possible by the country’s combined health and genomic data potential and new opportunities born out of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The report: State of the Nation 2021: Genomics Revolution, stresses that genomic advances made while combatting the pandemic should be embedded in routine processes across the NHS, research community, regulators and industry. Part of this vision must include an “end-to-end pathogen diagnostics and surveillance system for this decade and beyond” to help prevent future pandemics.

To facilitate this vision, Genomics Revolution calls for the government to establish a National Genomics Board – this, report says, could provide the basis and machinery to fulfill the UK’s genomics potential.

Through precision medicine, pharmacogenomics, faster diagnosis and more, many argue that genomics is the future of healthcare. A future the UK is poised to lead the world in a genomics revolution.

Commenting on the report, Professor Sir Mark Caulfield, Chief Executive Barts Life Science and Chair of the report said: “This report shows that the UK has the most tremendous opportunity to maximise the value of genomics to change healthcare and lives for the NHS and the whole of humanity.”

However, the reports warns that unless the diversity of genomics data is enhanced, the UK runs the risk of enhancing already serious levels of health inequality through “health data poverty”.

Building on the national strategies in the government’s Genome UK: the future of healthcare and the recently published Life Sciences Vision, Genomics Revolution highlights key areas of scientific and medical excellence which strengthen the UK’s position of global leadership in life sciences. Which to maintain requires further and continued investment.

The pandemic has brought forward scientific revolutions, many of which have been led by the UK. The tracking and sequencing of Covid-19 is a key example. Pathogen surveillance and infection management are amongst the seven pillars addressed in this report. Seven pillars, which if brought together have the potential to create a world leading genomic and healthcare ecosystem, they include:

  • The early detection and treatment of cancer
  • The public and patient perspective
  • The prevention and detection of disease to minimise their consequences

Sir John Chisholm, Former Chair, Genomics England and also Chair of the Report, said: “This report lays out many practical steps the government should take to realise the UK’s potential global leadership role. But across all of these, the single most important role is the one that only a government can play. That is to orchestrate the coming together of an ecosystem across all the important communities.

We have shown we can do it in the pandemic. The big prize is to make that the way we work from now on.”

Professor Sharon Peacock, Director, COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium (COG-UK) and project pillar Co-Chair said: “We need to build on the knowledge and expertise in pathogen sequencing generated before and during the pandemic; and develop a pathogen diagnostics and surveillance system for the next decade and beyond.”

Directed by former Chair of Genomics England, Sir John Chisholm, and Chief Executive, Barts Life Sciences, Professor Sir Mark Caulfield; Genomics Revolution, published on 20 October 2021, is based upon over 18 hours of discussion among 100 expert participants from academia, industry, the NHS and wider civil society.

 

Key recommendations from the report

  • The diversity of genomic data must be improved to avoid the risk of health data poverty, and by extension, health inequalities.
  • There should be a standardised qualification for data access, equivalent to a ‘data driving license’ that would demonstrate trustworthiness in genomic data.
  • The UK must build an end-to-end pathogen diagnostics and surveillance system for the next decade and beyond.
  • There should also be international protocols to promote rapid sharing of data for surveillance and analysis.
  • The Government should establish a genomics observatory service bringing together metagenomics, environmental health, animal health, public health and the NHS to track and identify potential outbreaks of infectious disease or AMR.
  • Opportunities for the use of genomic-based risk stratification for screening should be explored and integrated with existing screening programmes where necessary.
  • Polygenic risk scores could be routinely used in primary care to identify those patients at highest risk from cardiovascular conditions and other disease.
  • The future of cancer care is expected to include multimodal imaging, digital pathology, multiple biomarkers and genomic sequencing. This could include accelerated integrated pathology processes, the rapid application of multiple biomarkers including ctDNA, tumour proteomics, metabolomics and long-read tumour DNA sequencing with real-time analysis enabling earlier precision cancer care. A first-in-class global multimodal test platform could transform cancer detection and migrate later-stage presentations to earlier detection, which would make the UK an extremely attractive test bed for life sciences investment.
  • The UK Government should make a major investment over the next five years in a platform to support more rapid progress from patients to gene identification to function to treatment, which would ultimately bring the benefits of genomics to every patient in the NHS.
  • There should be a new human genetics commission, responsible for public and patient deliberation on the ethical development and application of genomic science by setting the framework for engagement and good governance and ensuring timely advice to government on policy.

Sponsorship for this report has provided by PerkinElmer and Roche. Public Policy Projects have retained full editorial control.

For more information contact Policy Analyst, Anna Dickinson, at either 07716639544 or anna.dickinson@publicpolicyprojects.com

Access the Report.