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CMO annual report on 'Generation Genome'

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NHS must seize the genomics potential so everyone with cancer or a rare disease can get faster, better treatment, says the Chief Medical Officer.

  • Tens of thousands of people have already had their DNA mapped
  • NHS must go further to make sure more patients benefit
  • Expansion of genomics will mean faster diagnosis of disease and more precise treatments
  • Next generation of NHS medics must be trained in genomic medicine

The UK is a world leader in genomic medicine but its full potential is still not being realised, Professor Dame Sally Davies—England’s Chief Medical Officer—said today.

Launching “Generation Genome”—a report on genomic medicine—the nation’s top doctor called on clinical staff, managers and the Government to work together to make wider use of revolutionary genetics techniques in the battle to improve cancer survival rates and identify rare diseases faster so patients can get the right care at the earliest opportunity.

A series of recommendations are set out in the report, including:

  • All genomic laboratories should be centralised and a national network established to provide equal access across the country;
  • A ministerial chaired National Genomics Board should be set up;
  • Genomics training should be offered to all for existing clinicians;
  • The next generation of clinicians should be equipped to practice genomic medicine

Genomic testing can result in faster diagnoses and precision treatment. An increase in genomic testing will stop the “diagnostic odyssey” where patients with rare diseases face having multiple tests without a diagnosis—wasting years and money while causing distress.

Currently, the average rare disease patient in the UK consults 5 doctors; receives 3 misdiagnoses; and waits 4 years before receiving their final diagnosis. Genomics has the potential to stop that.

Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies 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—ending the ‘diagnostic odyssey’ and tailoring treatment for more patients than ever before.

Patients with cancer or a rare disease should have access to genomics-based care, and health and care professionals should consider this as a standard part of their approach.

In addition to setting out steps on how to continue the expansion of genomics in the short term, Professor Davies sets out the long term vision and potential for genome sequencing.

She recommends that in future, all NHS patients should be able to access genome testing and patients should come to expect it like they expect an MRI scan today if it is required. Genomics should be mainstreamed into all elements of the NHS from the wards to screening policy.  Already the ability for researchers to analyse and compare genome maps are resulting in scientific breakthroughs and new cures.

Professor Sir John Savill, Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council, said:

The Medical Research Council welcomes the CMO’s far-sighted report with great enthusiasm. Proposals are made that will ensure that patients benefit more rapidly from the UK’s world-leading medical research. In particular, Dame Sally emphasizes that ethically sound use of medical data not only benefits individual patients, but also benefits the population in general. This is a landmark report of great national importance.

Sir Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said:

This timely report from the Chief Medical Officer showcases just how much is now possible in genomics research and care within the NHS. Further understanding and application of genomics will be essential to successfully tackling cancer and saving many more lives from this devastating disease.

Cancer Research UK shares the CMO’s ambition for the UK to build on its global position as a leader in clinical trials, and transform the outlook for patients through delivering cancer trials that are personalised through genomic analysis. Cancer Research UK is determined to streamline research, to find the right clinical trial for cancer patients and to ensure laboratory discoveries benefit patients – our recent £10m investment into a network of trials for pancreatic cancer is just one example of the strength of this commitment.

To bring the CMO’s vision to life will require action by the Government, the NHS, regulators and research funders. It would be a disservice to patients if the UK were slow to respond to innovations in this area.

Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt said:

I welcome the Chief Medical Officer’s independent report on genomics. We should be incredibly proud that over the past five years the UK has established itself as a world leader in genomic medicine. Tens of thousands of patients across the country have already benefitted from quicker diagnosis, precise treatment and care and we will support the NHS to continue its relentless drive to push the boundaries of modern science to benefit even more people.


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