Genome UK: new four nations commitments to priority actions

Philippa Brice

18 March 2022


New commitments for UK-wide implementation of genomics have been announced today that aim to accelerate research and drive healthcare innovation.

The national genomics healthcare strategy launched in 2020, Genome UK, set out ten year ambitions to build on existing UK excellence (and infrastructure) in genomics to boost global prominence and drive improvements in disease prediction, prevention, diagnosis and management, as well as underpin all kinds of research and development. Ultimately, the strategy sets out to create the most advanced genomic healthcare system in the world, offering increasingly personalised medicine and public health.

Commitments in focus

Ambitions are important, but of course the detail of exactly how these plans are to be achieved is also vital. The first annual implementation plan for 2021-22 set out details of specific activities for various bodies, including the NHS Genomic Medicine Service (GMS), Genomics England, NHSE/I, and the NHS genomics workforce steering group. It also referred to establishment of an implementation coordination group led by the Office for Life Sciences (OLS) to oversee further development of commitments.

Now this has delivered the next step, an agreed commitment to selected priority activities across the four nations:

  • More personalised cancer diagnosis and treatment through integration of genomic testing into the NHS and increased access to clinical trials.
  • Earlier detection of disease through a ‘clear, evidence-based approach to Newborn Genome Sequencing…to ensure learning is shared across the UK to benefit newborns and their parents nationwide’ led by Genomics England.
  • Infectious disease sequencing, with a national disease genomics group led by the UK Health Security Agency.
  • Innovative industry partnerships in research and development.

Innovation Minister Lord Kamall commented:

“These new shared commitments show a united vision across the nations to ensure we continue to build on the UK’s world-leading genomic capabilities and remain at the forefront of genomic healthcare and research”.

Maintaining momentum in genomics and personalised medicine

The commitments clearly seek to build on existing strengths not only in genomics but in life sciences and personalised medicine more broadly, including the remarkable achievements of the pandemic years. This reflects a wider imperative to make the most of experience and excellence - for example, in infectious disease genomics – and to further enhance the growing connections between clinical research and practice.

Clearly, UK-wide agreement is vital in properly progressing such ambitions, especially in ensuring that citizens across the country can benefit from both developments in healthcare and growth in the associated life sciences industry.  This was underlined by ABPI Director of Research Policy Jennifer Harris, who said:

“To ensure patients can benefit from these new breakthroughs, a coordinated effort across the UK is needed – which these plans demonstrate”.

The latest announcement, though important, reveals little further detail of implementation. Individual implementation plans for the four nations will be released by the end of 2022, presumably drawing on conclusions from the wide-ranging activities already underway. The genomics community will await these details with considerable interest.

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