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World's largest genetics project to tackle deadly diseases launches in the UK

Updated: Jan 10

The £200 million whole genome sequencing project is being created, forming a partnership of pharmaceutical firms and health experts which will examine and sequence the genetic code of 500,000 volunteers at the UK Biobank, based in Stockport UK.

The new project aims to improve health through genetic research, improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of a wide range of serious and life-threatening illnesses including cancer, heart diseases, diabetes, arthritis and dementia.

The UK’s Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom said:

“Today’s funding will support one of the world’s most ambitious gene sequencing programmes ever undertaken, reflecting the UK’s determination to remain at the forefront of scientific endeavour and progress”.

“Its results could transform the field of genetic repeated research - unlocking the causes of some of the most terrible diseases and how we can best tackle them. It will be a major step forward for individually tailored treatment plans, and will help us better understand why some people get certain diseases while others don’t”.

The UK Biobank recruited 500,000 people aged between 40 and 69 years between 2006 and 2010 from across the UK. Participants provided blood, urine and saliva samples for future analysis, detailed information about themselves and agreed to have their health followed on an anonymous basis.

Much of the sequencing will be by experts at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, based in Cambridge, and the results will help the NHS treat patients better. Through the Biobank research, industry can work with experts to create new treatments and preventative measures which will help those suffering from illnesses and may eventually reveal why some people develop diseases and others do not.

Funding for the genome project comes from a consortium formed by the UK government’s research and innovation agency, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) with £50 million through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund and £50 million from the research organisation, Wellcome. A further £100 million has come from four of the world’s leading biopharmaceutical and healthcare companies Amgen, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Johnson & Johnson.

The samples will be sequenced in equal numbers at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Cambridge and the deCOde site in Iceland, from the genome sequencing company, Illumina.

Mene Pangalos, Executive Vice President, BioPharmaceuticals R&D, AstraZeneca, commented:

“Whole genome sequencing on this scale is unprecedented, and through this collaboration we hope to unlock the potential of genomics to evolve our understanding of complex diseases such as cancer, heart disease and chronic kidney disease”.

“These new insights will guide our drug discovery programme and will help us bring innovative new precision medicines to patients who need them most urgently”.

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