Wednesday 10 February 2016

What does my MP have to say about personalised medicine?

Quite a lot actually...In a New Statesman article, sponsored by Merck, George Freeman (my local MP) was asked for his thoughts on future of Personalised Medicine by Merck’s Head of Public Affairs, Larushka Mellor.

George described himself as one of the “early evangelists for the new landscape of “translational” medical research”. George Freeman has a 15-year career in biotech/biomed behind him; Merlin Biosciences, Amedis Pharmaceuticals and 4D Biomedical, so his evangelicism for personalised medicine is unlikely to be purely political spin. Just five years after his election he was appointed Government Life Science Advisor, and three years later in 2014, the first Minister for Life Sciences. His portfolio is pretty big - including the NHS drugs budget, data and digital health, the NIHR, genomics, NICE and industry engagement.

He describes the promise of personalised medicine as “the Holy Grail for 21st-century healthcare” and “as game-changing as…penicillin”. I’m not quite so sure personalised medicine will have the same impact as penicillin, but I agree wholeheartedly that it is a part of a medical revolution, particularly, and most obviously in oncology, but one that will have implications in many (all) fields of medicine. George hopes to cement the UK as a world-leader in this revolution, and wants to drive big changes in the NHS. And Genomics England’s 100,000 genomes project is the most obvious example driving this agenda for change. Launched in 2011 (with the PM visiting my lab and starting a MiSeq run during the launch) the £250 million project is starting to get traction, patients are being recruited very rapidly, genomes are starting to come out of the Illumina pipeline now based at the Hinxton campus next door to Sanger and EBI.

International competition: But George says that no other country in the world is investing in genomics in the same way, I’d disagree. Many countries are running or starting genomic medicine projects (Estonia, Sweden, Iceland, Saudi Arabia, etc), and even private funding is getting in on population genomics e.g. Human Longevity Inc.. The world is marching towards personalised medicine fast. It is great that the UK is leading the world in this, but being the leader also means discovering many of the problems that lie in the path of success, education (of doctors and patients), analysis (from sample collection to results) and interpretation (from bioinformtics to clinical reports). All of these areas are likely to produce growth in the science economy that the UK Government is looking for, but with other countries certain to compete for what is a big prize the UK needs to demonstrate it can be successful. It is a little ironic that a UK funded £250M sequencing project is being processed by a multi-billion dollar US business built on UK science and technology (Solexa), although it is not clear we'd have the $1000 genome without Illumina's drive. For the personalised medicine push lets hope the UK goverment can retain much of the innovation coming out of UK academia as UK businesses.

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