AL: News

Genomics in Healthcare

Friday 26 October 2018

The Cambridge branch of the Innovation Forum, an accelerator for science-based ventures, hosted a ‘Genomics in Healthcare’ panel discussion at The Department of Chemistry, Cambridge. The Innovation Forum comprises a global, interdisciplinary network with over 10,000 members including entrepreneurs, researchers and industry experts. Their goal is to connect academia, industry, investors and policy makers to accelerate the development of technology. They achieve this through organising events open to all members with talks and thought provoking panel discussions. Meg Booth attended their most recent event, which aimed to provide a platform to hear about and discuss recent advances in Genomics for healthcare.

The event was chaired by Dr Philippa Brice, an External affairs director with the Public Health Genomics (PHG) Foundation and featured talks from Dr Ian Dunham, the Science Director of Open Targets; Prof. Joanne Hackett, Chief Commercial Officer for Genomics England; Dr Nick Lench, Chief Scientific Officer of Congenica and Dr Maria Chatzou, the CEO and co-founder of Lifebit.

The talks were focused on the Genomics England 100,000 Human Genomes Project, which will conclude in December 2018. Prof Hackett discussed the initiative, which aimed to sequence 100,000 human genomes from NHS patients with rare diseases, their families and patients with cancer. By doing this it is hoped that a new genomic medicine service will be implemented into the NHS and allow the diagnosis of patients which may have not previously been detected. The project also allowed a patient’s clinical data to be combined with the sequence data to investigate causes, diagnosis and treatment of disease and is the largest sequencing project of its kind in the world.

Dr. Dunham, Dr. Lench and Dr. Chatzou each discussed the ways their companies, Open Targets, Congenica and Lifebit are each contributing to analyzing the wealth of data obtained during the 100,000 genomes project. Open Targets uses human genetics and genomics data for systematic drug target identification and prioritisation via their platform. Congenica provide a platform, Sapientia, which enables clinicians to interrogate the human genome to identify disease-causing variants. This technology has also been utilised by Genomics England and is hoping to provide accurate diagnosis for patients with rare diseases. Finally, Lifebit combine artificial intelligence (AI) with genomics data to aid in the analysis of large data sets across multi-disciplinary teams and promote personalised medicine approaches.

To conclude the evening, there was a panel discussion chaired by Dr. Brice, with a lot of interesting discussions and questions for the speakers. There was a lot of discussion on the controversial topic of who actually owns your genome. If you agree to take part in a study to have your genome sequenced, should you own the rights to this and be able to share it at your discretion? An interesting angle was raised by Prof. Hackett who was of the opinion that the media should stop scaremongering patients with horror stories about what will happen to their DNA data (i.e. higher life insurance, employers knowing when you will get sick etc) and that it is important to share the genomic data to allow the best possible treatment outcomes. Also discussed was precision medicine and helping pharmaceutical companies repurpose drugs that may have been shelved, for alternative treatments to what they were originally designed for.

With the success of the 100,000 Genomes Project and the recent announcement on 2 October that this will be succeeded by the 5 Million Genomes in 5 Years, there is a lot of interest in how this large amount of data could change the healthcare landscape.

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