Across England patients with cancer are now being recruited to the main phase of the 100,000 Genomes Project, giving the fight against cancer a significant boost. Minister for Life Sciences George Freeman MP announced the news at the Festival of Genomics in London yesterday.
Speaking at the conference, the Minister also announced that the government has committed a further £250 million in funding for genomics as part of the recent Spending Review.
Cancer patients are joining those with rare diseases as part of the 100,000 Genomes Project. Patients are being recruited through 13 NHS Genomic Medicine Centres across the country.
With a patient’s consent, DNA from their tumour is sequenced, and then compared to DNA from healthy cells from a sample of blood.
Scientists will be able to build a more detailed understanding of how DNA affects a patients susceptibility to disease and response to treatment. In some cases, DNA sequencing will mean a specific recommend treatment can be recommended, based on a patient’s individual genome changes. This has the potential to benefit patients here in the UK, and could also help in the global fight against cancer.
Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt said:
“Genomics is the future of medicine and the sequencing of cancer DNA confirms why the UK is a global leader in this field. Over half a billion pounds has been invested in genomics to ensure that NHS patients continue to benefit from the prospect of better diagnosis and better treatments.”
Life Sciences Minister George Freeman MP added:
“The recruitment of cancer patients is a significant milestone in the revolutionary 100,000 Genomes Project. It will help to unlock our understanding of the causes of this devastating condition, make the UK a leader in genetic research, and provide better diagnosis and more targeted treatment for thousands of NHS patients across the UK.”
Three people joining the project are the Lloyd sisters: Mary, Sandra and Kerry. All three were diagnosed with breast cancer within 15 months of each other.
The sisters heard about the 100,000 Genomes Project, and signed up through University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust in order to understand more about their conditions, and how their families might be affected.
Mary said “I was diagnosed in 2013 just after I retired. Then it was Kerry in January 2014, who still has children at school. It was horrendous. Then Sandra in February 2015. You just wonder when it’s all going to end. We’re all keen to take part. Finding out more opens it all up for the rest of our family.”
Sir Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said:
“It’s very exciting news that the first cancer patients are being recruited to the main phase of this ground-breaking project. The comprehensive mapping of patients’ DNA will reveal a vast amount of information that could help doctors and scientists develop new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer more effectively in the future.
“Precision medicine is already having an impact on some cancer patients, who are benefitting from newly-developed, targeted treatments such as the skin cancer drug Vemurafenib. We hope that, one day, treatments based on the specific characteristics of the tumour, including the genetic make-up, can be offered to all patients – and this latest phase of the 100,000 Genomes Project is another important step towards this.”
The project has already delivered its first successes, with children at Great Ormond Street Hospital recently receiving life-changing diagnoses.
Sir John Chisholm, Executive Chairman of Genomics England said:
“The data from all our participants provides a powerful resource for researchers and we hope that new understanding, diagnoses and treatments for rare diseases and cancer can be developed as a result of this. Working together with the NIHR BioResource, Cambridge University, Cancer Research UK and Illumina has enabled Genomics England to reach this important milestone.”
Prof Sue Hill, Chief Scientific Officer for NHS England said:
“By giving clinicians and researchers access to their DNA and health history, genomic ‘patient’ pioneers such as the Lloyd sisters are helping to put the 100,000 Genomes Project and the NHS at the forefront of science. Our clinical staff are driving through new tumour tissue handling, preparation and assessment methodology across the NHS Genomic Medicine Centres which will lead to higher quality samples and faster, more accurate results for patients. The global community is now looking to Genomics England and its NHS partners to set global standards for tumour DNA extraction, whole genome sequencing and its analysis.”
Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, also announced that her annual report for 2016 will focus on genomics, addressing some of the emerging issues in the field.
Here’s a video featuring Sir John Chisholm, George Freeman MP, Dame Professor Sally Davies, and Illumina’s Peter Fromen speaking on how the 100,000 Genomes Project is leading the way in transforming healthcare for NHS patients.