News Feature | August 4, 2014

Genomics England, Illumina To Map 100K Genomes By 2017

By Suzanne Hodsden

Genomics England, Illumina To Map 100K Genomes By 2017

Prime Minister, James Cameron announced the partnership between Illumina, an American gene-sequencing company, and Genomics England. The agreement specifies that Illumina will provide financial support, infrastructure, and expertise for government-created Genomics England to launch a four-year initiative to map 100K genomes.

The 100K Genomes project has been in development for the past two years and is currently in its “pilot phase,” however this week’s financial agreement will put the plan into action. Over $500M dollars have been earmarked for the project, which is expected to build, equip, and run a brand new facility near Cambridge alongside operations of the Sanger Institute and the European Bioinformatics Institute. This move will allow for collaboration between scientists from all three organizations.

Though the bulk of project funding comes from Illumina ($272.7M), the Medical Research Council, which funds UK medical research, the NHS, and The Wellcome Trust have also invested funds in this endeavor.

Though 100K genomes will be sequenced, only 40,000 consenting NHS patients and their relatives will participate. Cancer patients will provide two genome sequences — the genome of their tumor cells and a separate genome of their healthy cells. The parents of patients with rare genetic diseases will also provide their genome sequences. 

By studying the entire genetic sequences (3 billion letter pairs) of both patients and their near relations, researchers might begin to isolate genetic markers and thus understand how a disease works and develops. This would lead to more tailor-made tests and treatments and would revolutionize current medical practice.

Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust, which has already invested billions of dollars in genome research, believes that “understanding humanity’s genetic code is not only going to be fundamental to the medicine of the future. It is an essential part of medicine today.”  He calls genome sequencing "inevitable" for everyone and that future GP’s and hospital doctors will routinely access and study this information as part of their diagnosis and treatment.

If the initiative proves successful, the UK would be poised to become a front-runner in genetic research. According to Jay Flatley, CEO of Illumina: “This is a momentous day for the UK to push the boundaries of medical science and create the first comprehensive national program for genomic healthcare” that would “create a lasting legacy for patients, the NHS, and the UK economy.”