Patients’ lives ‘to be transformed’ by NHS genomic testing

By Sally Wardle, Press Association Health and Science Correspondent
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Patients’ lives ‘to be transformed’ by NHS genomic testing

The NHS will become the first health service in the world to routinely offer the test.

Patients’ lives will be transformed as the NHS becomes the first health service in the world to routinely offer genomic testing, the Government’s chief scientific officer has said.

People with rare diseases and some types of cancer will be the first to benefit when the Genomic Medicine Service is rolled out in England from October.

Professor Dame Sue Hill, chief scientific officer for England, said the “holy grail of the health system” is early diagnosis and preventative care.

Genomic medicine will enable the NHS to pursue this dream, she told a press briefing in London.

Under the new service, which was announced in July, selected patients will have their tumour DNA screened to check for mutations, helping doctors identify a more “personalised” treatment.

People suffering from 22 rare diseases and some paediatric and haematological cancers will be among the first to routinely be tested this financial year.

Those offered testing will be able to opt in to share their data with a central database, to help improve understanding of rare diseases.

Dame Sue said the move marks a shift away from “one size fits all medicine”.

“Genomic medicine has the potential to transform patients’ lives, enabling quicker, better diagnoses, matching people to the most effective treatments, and increasing the number of patients surviving cancer,” she said.

“In establishing the Genomic Medicine Service, we are putting the NHS in pole position to harness this technology as it develops.

“This is an important milestone as we develop the long-term plan for the NHS, creating a world-class resource and building on the long history of delivering cutting-edge technology for our patients.

“The holy grail of the health system for the future is that we take a more prognostic and preventative healthcare approach, and this will enable us to do that, by understanding some of the genetic make-up of individuals that might predispose them to developing certain conditions.”

The rollout of the Genomic Medicine Service comes as the Wellcome Sanger Institute celebrates 25 years of research.

The group was pivotal in the landmark Human Genome Project, which sequenced the complete genetic code of the human being, an advance which underpins the testing being rolled out in the NHS.

Dr Julia Wilson, associate director of the Wellcome Sanger Institute, said: “I think we are at the start of a decades-long journey here.

“With cancer, what we will be able to do is repurpose drugs, we will be treating on genetic faults rather than anatomy, we will be able to predict who may respond to treatment, who won’t respond to treatment and target treatments better.

“We’re entering the next era of genomics and are really starting to witness the positive effect it can have on our health.”

The NHS already offers genetic tests in some areas, but it is hoped the Genomic Medicine Service will lead to a more equal distribution.

The programme builds on the work of the 100,000 Genomes Project, launched in 2012, which has so far sequenced the DNA of 80,000 people with cancer and rare diseases.