UK patients should be able to benefit from genomic technology which can improve the NHS' understanding of the nature of disease and allow treatment to be tailored to patients' individual genetic make-up, Ministers have been told.
In its newly-published report to government on genomic technology, the Human Genomics Strategy Group proposes a strategic vision to realise the future benefit of genomics.
The independent cross-government advisory group, chaired by Professor Sir John Bell, makes the following six recommendations to Ministers:
- to develop a crosscutting strategic document to set out the direction on genomic technology adoption in the NHS;
- to develop a national central genomic data storage facility;
- that the NHS Commissioning Board should lead on developing genomic technology adoption;
- to work to develop a service delivery model for genomic technologies;
- that the NHS should continue to develop genomics education and training; and
- to raise public awareness of genomic technology and its benefits.
"Genomics expands our knowledge beyond single gene analysis to the whole genome, increasing our ability to gauge an individual's risk of disease and support better diagnosis and treatment," said Sir John.
The UK is a leader in genomic research and the Human Genomics Strategy Group wants to see this position maintained and built upon, which "will take a concerned effort from all the key players in research, academia, industry and the NHS," he said.
The report's recommendations lay out key steps that can be taken now and in the near future to realise this goal, and their adoption "would lead to further revolutionary developments in our ability to diagnose, treat and prevent disease," said Sir John.
The government will respond to the Group report's recommendations in due course, but Health Secretary Andrew Lansley announced yesterday that the NHS will take forward plans to widen out access for more cancer patients to molecular tests which use genomic technology as a tool to provide targeted treatment for the individual patient.
In the past, the blanket prescription of drugs has meant cancer patients received a range of medicines which, it was hoped, would benefit them, but in fact only some patients' cancers would respond, notes the Department of Health. But now, testing of tumours and patients will be able to tell clinicians in advance whether a patient is likely to respond to particular drug therapies.
"The ability to use molecular testing of cancers to match individuals to the most appropriate treatment is revolutionary," said Mr Lansley. The development of a new formal commissioning and funding structure for molecular tests for cancer, led by the NHS Commissioning Board, will mean that more patients will get access to these tests, he said.
"We want to make sure that all patients can benefit from these tests - as soon as the tests are recommended by NICE [the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence]. We have therefore been working to establish a new system to ensure speedy introduction of high-quality tests. This is the way forward for the future," said the Health Secretary.
The Group's report was welcomed by Sir Mark Walport, director of the Wellcome Trust, which spends more than £100 million a year on genomics research. "Our advancing ability to read and understand the genetic code is already beginning to spark transformative improvements in healthcare, by refining diagnosis and revealing the processes of disease. The government must act now to deliver Sir John Bell's excellent recommendations, so that the NHS builds the capabilities and skills it needs if patients are to benefit," he said.
Sir Mark added that the Trust particularly supports the Group's proposal to link genomic data to patients' anonymised medical records through a secure national centre, which he said "would create an unparalleled resource for research and diagnosis without compromising confidentiality or privacy."
"It is also important to develop medical informatics services that can make sense of complex genomics data, and to update professional training to meet the challenges of the genomics age," he added.