UK launches genetic database for drug discovery

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 The NHS will build a database of 100,000 human genomes to assist the development of new therapies for cancer and rare genetic diseases.

Prime Minister David Cameron announced the UK Genome Project, which will strengthen the capacity of the NHS to provide targeted drugs, as part of the Strategy for Life Sciences.

The UK will be the first country to use DNA sequences within its mainstream health service.

The genomes of over 100,000 patients with cancer or rare genetic diseases will be mapped within five years, with the potential to reduce the number of premature deaths from these conditions.

“By unlocking the power of DNA data, the NHS will lead the global race for better tests, better drugs and above all better care,” Cameron said.

The NHS will dedicate £100m over 2013–18 to fund DNA sequencing, build the database and provide training for doctors to use the information.

Harpal Kumar, Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK, pointed to Gleevec – Novartis’ drug for chronic myeloid leukaemia – as a successful example of a targeted cancer drug.

The human genome database would enable doctors and scientists to develop new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancers, he said.

The project was welcomed by life science industry representatives. Stephen Whitehead, Chief Executive of the ABPI, said: “The cancer genome initiative will harness the latest science and technology to take the next transformative step towards personalised medicine.

“With our strong science base, our biopharmaceutical industry and the potential of the NHS as an engine for research, the UK is in a prime position to lead on the development and delivery of personalised medicines.”