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UK to lead 500,000 genome sequencing project

UK Research and Innovation has announced a new £200m project to sequence 500,000 people’s genetic codes, in order to better understand, diagnose, treat and prevent life-changing diseases, including cancer and dementia.

The project, dubbed the “Whole Genome Sequencing” project, is the most ambitious genome sequencing project to date, with £50 million in funding from the UK Government’s research and innovation agency (UKRI), £50 million from the Wellcome Trust charity, and £100 million in total from four pharma giants; Amgen, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline and Johnson & Johnson.

The news comes after the completion of Genomics England’s 100,000 Genomes Project, which proved to be a “massive step in showing the value of genetics in diagnosing and treating rare diseases and cancer.”

The data will be linked to other detailed clinical and lifestyle data for the anonymised volunteers in UK Biobank. This will combine to give unique insight as to why some people may develop particular diseases and some may not.

Sara Marshall, head of clinical research and physiological sciences at Wellcome, commented: “This exciting new project will help scientists and doctors develop new ways of preventing, diagnosing and treating a range of life changing diseases such as cancer and dementia. By sequencing the genomes of the UK Biobank participants, the research community will have an unprecedented resource to gain new insights into human disease.

“This work would not be possible without the generous support of the 500,000 participants of the UK Biobank who, without any direct benefit to themselves, have allowed their lives to be studied through blood tests, body scans and information from their medical records all in the hope that it will benefit others.”

The Medical Research Council (MRC) has already funded UK Biobank to carry out a successful pilot at the Wellcome Sanger Institute with sequencing 50,000 individuals’ genomes, after which a further 450,000 participants will be sequenced.