UK Government Announces Genomics Policies
As it is announced that Boris Johnson will be the next UK Prime Minister, the UK government has released their genomic policies for the 2020s. The policies aim to ‘build on [the Uk’s] position as a world leader in genomics.’
From 2023-2034 the NHS aims to analyse five million genomes and fully sequence one million genomes. Patients who have or are expected to have rare genetic diseases and patients with cancer will be offered full genome sequencing.
The results will be used in cancer treatments to inform the most effective treatment and the government estimate that half of all cancer patients will be put on a ‘better care pathway’ due to genomics sequencing. Rare genetic diseases can be extremely difficult to diagnose and due to advances in sequencing 1 in 4 patients who were expected to have a genetic disease now have a diagnosis.
The government has also announced plans for a preventative approach. The Accelerating Detection of Disease Challenge aims to recruit five million healthy volunteers for a genomics study to identify the genetic variants associated with common diseases. This will allow patients to obtain polygenic risk scores (PRS) to quantify their risk of getting a certain disease.
The government press that this will be advantageous in allowing patient monitoring, effective prevention prescriptions and early diagnosis. It also promotes patients to make healthy lifestyle changes. However, serious concerns have been raised by other healthcare institutions about the risks of informing healthy patients about their genetic risks for diseases. These include patients misinterpreting their results and the risk of mental health problems associated with patients concerned about their risk.
Although it is hoped that the new policies will make the UK ‘the number one destination for research,’ the impact on patients must be carefully considered.