Government pledges to work with industry to make UK a genomics leader

illustration of a DNA structure

With initiatives like The 100,000 Genome Project, the UK has led the world on genomic research. In a bid to maintain that position, the governments of all four UK nations have now pledged their support for the sectors’ industry players.

Representatives from industry associations and the governments and NHS in all four UK nations will meet to discuss the future of the country’s genomics sector.

The workshop, due to be held later in the spring, is part of the Genomics 2020 strategy, which aims to cement the UK’s position as the best place in the world to conduct genomics research and grow new genomics healthcare companies.

“The vision recognises that to remain competitive in the life sciences, the UK will need to focus relentlessly on areas in which it already has, or can, gain, a competitive advantage – such as genomics,” said the authors of new set of UK-wide “shared commitments and priority actions” which were published earlier this week as part of the strategy’s implementation plan. “It also recognises that our ambition needs to be to create scale.”

That cannot be achieved without working hand in glove with researchers and industry, they go on, before pledging to support and incentivise the sector on its continued genomic journey in the UK.

“The UK has a diverse industrial life sciences sector, comprised of large multinationals, SMEs, and spinouts – all of which bring unique value and expertise to the UK’s genomics ecosystem. The innovations coming from the commercial UK genomics sector and their international partners and collaborators will underpin developments in research and healthcare for years to come,” they said.

Plans for a joint workshop

Among the shared commitments, which will be followed by four separate national implementation plans by the end of the year, is the intention to hold a joint workshop.

Convened in partnership with groups such as the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) and the Bioindustry Association (BIA), it will “discuss industry priorities and how these should be reflected in Genome UK implementation”.

“It is vital that we capitalise on the UK’s existing strength by continuing to foster an environment that allows companies to develop new treatments, deliver effective innovations to patients and grow at scale,” said the policy paper.

Other pledges include encouraging industry partnerships in research and development, and fostering a “supportive and attractive environment for genomics SMEs” by ensuring organisations are able to access resources such as data assets, biosampling capabilities, and academic and clinical expertise.

David Atkins, UK BIA representative on the National Genomics Board, welcomed the news, saying that SMEs were “a vital part of the UK’s existing strength in genomics”.

“Fostering the right environment and developing a workforce for these companies is key to achieving the ambition of Genome UK,” he went on.

"The commitments set out in this plan, including enabling industry access to clinical assets, expertise and partnerships, are an important step in realising the vision of making the UK the best place to start and scale new genomics companies.”

The ABPI agreed, saying it looked forward to further collaboration between the government, the pharmaceutical industry, and the research sector to “harness the UK’s world-class genomics capability”.

“Genomics is already transforming lives, helping our scientists create new generations of treatments for many conditions. To ensure patients can benefit from these new breakthroughs, a coordinated effort across the UK is needed – which these plans demonstrate,” said Jennifer Harris, the ABPI’s Director of Research Policy.

Cementing UK leadership

Through the vision, the UK government wants to ensure patients can benefit fully from genomic healthcare, through a more preventative approach, faster diagnosis, and personalised and better treatment leading to better long-term outcomes.

The country already has “fantastic expertise, tools and world-leading initiatives in UK genomics” – including the 100,000 Genomes Project, the UK Rare Diseases Framework, and the Genomic Test Evaluation Working Groups.

The challenge now, the team says, is how to bring these together in a transformative way that places the UK firmly ahead of its competition, “while making it a valued partner for international collaboration and an attractive location for investment”.

Collaboration – across sectors, silos, and governments – is the key.

Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, said: “By harnessing the power and innovation of genomic research, we can reduce diagnosis times and use cutting-edge treatments for some of the biggest health challenges we face, including cancer.

“By coming together and agreeing these new shared commitments, we will ensure patients across all four nations of the UK can benefit from these pioneering advancements and cement our place as a world leader in research and genomics.”