Genomics plc has announced the development of predictive genomic tests for 16 common diseases.

The predictive tests, or ‘polygenic risk scores’, will work by combining information from large numbers of genetic variants to assess how people’s genetic make-up affects risk of developing various diseases.

The diseases covered include prominent issues such as breast cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), coronary artery disease, obesity, prostate cancer and type II diabetes.

Polygenic risk scores can encourage people to make lifestyle changes to if they are made aware of their elevated risk of certain diseases, and improve early detection by helping health systems target screening at the most high-risk segments of the population. The idea is in keeping with the NHS Long Term Plan’s emphasis on prevention.

Fortunately, the genetic variants needed to calculate all the polygenic risk scores can be measured for about £20 to £40 per person, much lower than the £500 to £1,000 cost of whole genome sequencing.

Dr Vincent Plagnol, head of precision health at Genomics plc, said: “For most of us there will be one or two diseases where we are at considerably higher risk based on our DNA, but the diseases will be different for each of us. Being able to calculate polygenic risk scores for many diseases enables us to identify those high-risk diseases for each individual, giving them and their doctors a head-start to reduce the risk.

“While genetics is an important part of disease risk, it is critical to remember that, whatever we inherit, we can move that risk up or down a lot through our lifestyle choices and in some cases through medical interventions.”

The news comes straight after health secretary Matt Hancock MP addressed the potential of genomic data to improve disease management in the NHS, simultaneously announcing that he has taken a predictive genomic test and that he is at higher risk of prostate cancer, emphasising the importance of the new test.