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£200m largest ever genetics project launched to combat deadly diseases

Published on 11/09/19 at 12:05pm

In a huge step forward for public health and the UK’s global leadership in genomics, a £200 million project has been launched involving the government, charities and four leading pharma companies.

The collaboration will support the complete sequencing of the genetic code of 500,000 participants at the UK Biobank health research resource.

The amount of genetic data that will be generated will be beyond vast, or roughly equivalent to around 600 billion pages of text, requiring unique technical expertise to store and utilise. The sequenced data will also be linked to the other detailed clinical and lifestyle data for each anonymised volunteer in UK Biobank.

Funding for the sequencing project comes from the agency UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), with £50 million from the Industrial Strategy Fund, £50 million from charitable foundation Wellcome and another £100m in total from Amgen, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Johnson and Johnson.

The ultimate goal of the Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) project is the game-changing ability to help the global scientific community understand, diagnose, treat and prevent life threatening diseases, such as cancer and dementia.

Ensuring the main sequencing programme runs smoothly, the Medical Research Council conducted a successful pilot programme sequencing 10% (50,000 individuals) of the UK Biobank-registered participants.

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 affects 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.”

John Lepore, Senior Vice President at GSK, said: “Genetically validated drug candidates are twice as likely to become registered novel medicines, and efforts like this bring us closer to developing transformational medicines that can significantly improve patient health and change lives.”

The expectation is that all of the sequenced data will become available by early 2023.

Nik Kiran


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