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Personalised medicine based on patient genome data recommended by chief medical adviser

Personalised medicine created using a patient’s genome could be used for those who are suffering from cancer within five years under new plans unveiled by the government's chief medical adviser.

The “genomics dream” outlined by Professor Dame Sally Davies would see millions of patients having their DNA tested as genome sequencing becomes as routine as MRI or CT scans.

Ultimately, the future goal is for every cancer patient to have his or her whole genome sequenced, making the procedure as standard as blood tests and biopsies.

People with rare diseases are also expected to benefit from having greater access to the technology, ending the years long “diagnostic odyssey” of multiple tests and visits to different specialists.

Whole genome sequencing involves unscrambling the entire book of genetic instructions that make us what we are, encompassing 3.2 billion “letters” of code.

Research suggests that in 60 per cent of cases, the genomes of cancer patients reveal “actionable” data - personal mutations that can shape future treatment.

Tens of thousands of NHS patients have already had their DNA mapped, but the new recommendations set out in Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally’s “Generation Genome” report aim to multiply the numbers many times over.

Dame Sally said: “The age of precision medicine is now and the NHS must act fast to keep its place at the forefront of global science.

“This technology has the potential to change medicine forever - but we need all NHS staff, patients and the public to recognise and embrace its huge potential.

“Genomic medicine has huge implications for the understanding and treatment of rare diseases, cancer and infections.”

Currently, genetic testing of NHS patients in England is conducted via 25 regional laboratories and a plethora of smaller ones operating along the lines of a “cottage industry”, said Dame Sally.

Her chief recommendation is to centralise all the labs and establish a national network providing equal access to the tests across the country.

Within government, a new National Genomics Board would be set up, chaired by a minister, to oversee the expansion and development of genomic services taking into account new advances within the rapidly evolving technology.

Other proposals include offering every existing clinician training in genomics and ensuring their descendants are equipped to practice genomic medicine.

The report also recommends setting up a standing committee of experts to advise on the availability of genetic tests and indications for their use.

Lessons could be learned from the highly successful 100,000 Genomes Project, which has now sequenced more than 31,000 genomes from patients with cancer and rare diseases, said Dame Sally.

Genome sequencing has become more feasible in recent time due to the rapid reduction in the cost of tests, which has fallen from several thousand pounds to an average £680.

Results from analysis of cancer samples could now be delivered in as little as four weeks.

In May E&T looked at how comprehensive patient data coupled with artificial intelligence could help to drastically improve cancer detection and survival rates. 

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