Government announces £175 million funding initiative to boost genomics research

The UK Government has announced a funding initiative to support work on genetic disease treatment, cancer pathways and tackling health inequalities.

To support patients with cancer and children born with treatable rare genetic diseases, £175 million has been provided in funding to boost genomics research as part of a three year plan to develop, evaluate and roll out new technologies across the health and care system.

This includes £105 million to launch a research study led by Genomics England in partnership with the NHS, to explore the effectiveness of using whole genome sequencing to find and treat rare genetic diseases in newborn babies. The study will begin in 2023 and will sequence the genomes of 100,000 babies, with the aim of gathering evidence to consider country wide roll-out.

An initial £26 million is to help innovative cancer programmes led by Genomics England and the NHS. Genomic sequencing technology is to be evaluated for its use in supporting cancer patients, in addition to using artificial intelligence to analyse a person’s DNA.

£22 million of the funding has been put aside to sequence the genomes of up to 25,000 research participants of non-European ancestry, currently under-represented in genomic research, in the hopes of improving understanding of DNA and its impact on health outcomes.

In addition, the government has announced that up to £25 million in funding will be put towards a UK-wide new initiative on functional genomics, an area of research using molecular tools such as gene editing to support understanding of how genetic variation leads to disease. The funding is intended to support smarter diagnostics and the development of new treatments.

Dr Rich Scott, Chief Medical Officer for Genomics England, commented: “With the pace of change of knowledge and the emergence of new technologies, it’s crucial that we continue to learn. That’s why our programme will also support research to improve diagnosis and treatment of genomic conditions and into the potential future healthcare uses of genomic data. It’s also why we will explore public preferences for how we might support these uses in the future if newborn genome sequencing became routinely offered.”