NIH kicks off $313M genome sequencing drive

The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) is getting deeper into genome sequencing. Leaders at the institute's genomics research wing are planning to funnel $240 million into the Centers for Common Disease Genomics (CCDG), a newly created group focused on identifying the genetic factors involved in widespread health issues such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke and autism.

Another unit of NIH is chipping in a further $20 million, giving CCDG an anticipated budget of $260 million to cover the next four years. CCDG plans to split the cash among Washington University, the Broad Institute, Baylor College of Medicine and New York Genome Center, each of which owns an Illumina ($ILMN) HiSeq X Ten system. The research teams will use their population-scale sequencing capabilities and between $40 million and $80 million in NIH funding to map the genomes of tens of thousands of people.

By building a large pool of data on healthy individuals and people who are living with diseases, CCDG is aiming to uncover insights into genes that may trigger--or inhibit--the development of illnesses. Cardiovascular, metabolic and neuropsychiatric diseases are at the top of CCDG's hit list. Autoimmune and bone conditions, as well as Alzheimer's disease, could all join the list at a later date. Whether having genomic data on people with these diseases, as well as unaffected individuals, leads to improved treatment and prevention options depends, in part, on CCDG's ability to make sense of the results.

Washington University's Ira Hall

"Having the tools to analyze this data is as important as the sequencing technology itself," Ira Hall, a computational biologist at Washington University's McDonnell Genome Institute, told NewsOK. As it stands, the boom in sequencing capacity may have outstripped growth in data analysis bandwidth. "Right now we can generate more data than we have the ability to analyze," Richard Wilson, the principal investigator on the project at Washington University, said. Most of the NIH funding will go toward correcting this imbalance.

NIH has ringfenced some cash for the improvement of data availability and analysis. The Genome Sequencing Program Coordinating Center, which is tasked with supporting collaboration, will use some of its $4 million on data availability and analysis. A rare disease-focused program, which will run in parallel to the common ailment sequencing drive, accounts for the remaining $49 million.

- read the release
- here's NewsOK's piece
- and FierceMedicalDevices' take