Genomics and data, central to the future of UK healthcare.

UK e-Health Week closed with NHS England Chairman, Professor Sir Malcom Grant CBE, explaining why genomics and data are crucial areas of focus for the progression of UK healthcare.

“We are still in the second generation of genome sequencing but this is not a static technology.

Professor Malcom Grant

Professor Malcom Grant | Image via University of York

“Another aspect is how we can use genome sequencing as a model of personalised medicine. We know that many of the drugs used in chemotherapy don’t work for 30 or 40% of patients in which they are used. That is not only hurtful, harmful and dangerous, but hugely expensive as a resource.

“Rare diseases, affect something like 5% of the total population of England. It takes seven years on average to diagnose a rare disease in patients. At this moment the diagnostic tools are not yet up to speed or fulfill a purpose.”

The former University College London Provost also commented on how the UK’s commitment to genomic technology and the need to lead the way: “This is cutting edge technology and an area that the UK is ahead of the world where we can do proper genome sequencing.

“If we don’t lead on this there are many other countries that will and we will pay heavily. It is absolutely critical to capture this at an early stage.

“Genomics is simply one of the new technologies that we know can drive the transformation of medicine. For the rest of this century, you will see the rise of data science overtaking medical science.”

As well as the benefits to healthcare, the advances in genomics present important data privacy and security issues.

“There is a deep concern over data privacy. What we know is the public hate the notion of somebody reading data with no authority and there is a huge sensitivity about it.”

“Another huge concern is the threat of a cyber security attack with the main issue being hospitals.

“There is a big threat for hospitals and electronic medical records, that a probe could corrupt the data. Someone could change blood group of all patients in a set of medical records and charge a ransom fee for corruption.”

Commenting on what the future might hold, Grant concluded: “The next stage of development is how we build the medical eHealth agenda through these technologies on top of the personal eHealth agenda.

“It will raise a vision for the future. It will be very different from the model of medicine we have inherited and taken through our own generation.”

For a website predominantly focused on genomics, it’s fantastic to see genomics positioned so centrally in these types of presentations. As much as we believe in the technology and what it could make possible, Grant does touch on a very important point at the end. The model of medicine is outdated. Eric Topol wrote about this extensively in his book ‘The Patient Will See You Now’, and is perhaps one of the most active advocates for a change in how medicine is practiced. The question we’re asking is, does the current model of medicine need to change first, or will genomics help drive that change itself?