NHS: First Health Service in the World to Routinely Offer Genomic Medicine

Genetic Testing Tray (Credit: Steve Babuljak)

People living in England will be the first in the world to have access to DNA tests as routine care starting this fall, putting the NHS at the forefront of healthcare, as it takes a huge step towards precision medicine.   

From 1 October, hospitals across England will be connected to specialist centres that read, analyse and interpret patient data to help diagnose rare diseases, match patients to the most effective treatments, and reduce adverse drug reactions, reports The Guardian. 

Under the new service, which is built on foundations laid down by the 100,000 Genomes Project,  people with cancer will routinely have their tumour DNA screened for key mutations in order to help doctors figure out which drugs to give the patient, and whether they might benefit from taking part in clinical trials of experimental therapies.

Beyond its aim to bring patients the most effective treatments faster, the service is expected to generate a wealth of data on the interplay between  DNA, health and lifestyles, which will become a powerful tool for research into cancer and other diseases, writes Ian Sample for The Guardian. 

“We are ushering in a new era of genomic health,” said Chief Scientist, Mark Caufield of Genomics England. 

“This is a big step and it grows over the new two years. It’s a total transformation,” he continued. 

Precision Medicine Is Working

Genomics England has set up seven genomics hubs across England to deliver DNA tests on cancer, rare diseases and other conditions. In addition, a separate lab in Cambridge will perform WGS when all 3.2 billion letters of the human DNA code are needed. The service will be offered in England initially, but could potentially be rolled out across the UK. 

The details of the available tests will be stored in a national directory, that will be updated every year as genetic medicine advances, the newspaper notes

The genomic health service will mainly focus on cancers and rare diseases where there are clear benefits at first, however, more tests are in the pipeline to spot patients who may have bad reactions to certain drugs, and to reveal the risk of severe only onset diseases. 

“It won’t matter if you live in the north-east [of England] or the south-west, you should have the same access to clinical genome testing and that’s a great thing,” said William Newman, Professor of Translational Genomic Medicine at Manchester University and Vice-Chair of the British Society for Genetic Medicine.