Ambitious U.K. genome project looks for industry input

In December, Prime Minister David Cameron outlined his plan to turn the United Kingdom into a world leader in medical genomics, but beyond the headline-grabbing numbers--$160 million to sequence 100,000 whole genomes--details were scarce. Now, the group tasked with the project has spoken up.

The headline figures remain the same, with Genomics England--the company created by the Department of Health to enact Cameron's vision--committing to deliver 100,000 whole genomes by 2017. Exactly how it will achieve this ambitions target is still being decided, but at its first 'Town Hall' outreach event, Genomics England discussed creating several sequencing centers in partnership with industry, Caroline Wright, a molecular scientist and writer at Genomes Unzipped, reports.

With just $160 million in funding, Genomics England will have to use its money well to achieve the 100,000 genome target and is promoting competition between next-generation sequencing providers to drive down costs. At this stage, it is unclear who is in the running. More details of the project are expected to emerge as Genomics England works through an 18-month pilot project, during which it will sequence a few thousand genomes. The pilot will establish processes for selecting patients with rare inherited illnesses, cancer and infectious diseases--the three areas of focus--for sequencing.

Genomics England has already decided to store the data inside the National Health Service (NHS) firewall. Once generated, Genomics England will link data to patient records for clinical use and make it available for research in an anonymized form. A potential stumbling block is NHS' poor track record with IT projects. An attempt to establish electronic health records went well over budget and failed to deliver many of its promised improvements.

- read the Genomes Unzipped post