More firms awarded contracts for UK’s genomics initiative

Genomics England has awarded contracts to more private companies to help accelerate the 100,000 Genomes Project.

Launched in December 2012, the ambitious project aims to improve understanding of the role of genes in rare diseases, cancers and infectious disease, as well as guide development of new diagnostics and treatments.

The 100,000 genome target is due to be reached in 2017 and – ultimately – the goal is to incorporate genomic data within NHS health records.

Among the new partner companies are Congenica and Omicia, which have been contracted to provide genome information for 8,000 patients participating in the project.

Congenica said it will make use of its Sapienta diagnostics platform, which is used to help consultants diagnose rare genetic diseases, and will allow clinicians to compare their patients with anonymised data from other patients previously diagnosed with the same mutations.

Omicia will also provide its Opal software for interpretation and clinical reports for the patients, with both companies working with sequencing data gathered by existing partner Illumina. LockheedMartin-Cypher, Nanthealth and WuxiNextcode are also involved in the first phase of the project.

Two other companies – artificial intelligence specialist Berg Health and NGM Biopharmaceuticals – have also joined Genomics England’s industry collaboration known as the GENE Consortium which also includes big pharma partners such as Roche, Biogen, AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline. The industrial partners are providing seed funding and scientists to work on the genome project.

Boston-based Berg and San Francisco’s NGM Biopharmaceuticals will join the other members of the GENE Consortium who are already working on a year-long industry trial assessing “how best to engage with Genomics England to accelerate the development of new diagnostics and treatments for patients,” according to a statement.

“Exploring how industry will work with this unique dataset along with driving up the quality of the interpretation of genomic data are crucial to us in finding out how to understand and treat disease better in the future,” said Sir John Chisholm, executive chairman of Genomics England.

“It’s this that will ensure genomic medicine benefits patients for years to come,” he added.

Iceland was the first country in the world to implement this type of genome analysis project, and the US recently followed suit with its Precision Medicines Initiative. Other smaller-scale genome studies are being carried out in Canada, Australia, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Thailand, amongst other countries.

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