Our NHS, Our Future: Part 1 - Genomics

There is arguably great scope for the NHS to lower running costs and improve efficiency by harnessing a wave of advanced medical technology and innovation.

The King’s Fund, in a report outlining the potential impact of technology on the NHS, highlights several key areas of advancement that may produce significant improvements in the quality and efficiency of patient care; among these are genomics and precision medicine, and improved data gathering and processing techniques. [1]

The human genome can now be sequenced with greater ease and efficiency than ever before - an entire human genome can now be sequenced in a just few days, at a cost of less then £1000. [2]

In 2015, the UK became the first country in the world to introduce genomic medicine into its mainstream healthcare system. Pioneering project like the 100,000 Genomes Project involve sequencing the genomes of large numbers of individuals with rare diseases, as well as patients with cancer. As a result of this research, some patients have already been able to access personalised treatments which are most likely to be effective based on their unique genetic information, as well as information about their lifestyle and environment - a practice known as ‘precision medicine’.

If precision medicine continues to work as expected, there is little doubt that it will go on to improve quality of care and patent outcomes, as well creating value for money. By creating entirely new treatment options, genomics has the potential to revolutionise the way we currently treat many of the most common and life-threatening illnesses threatening the population, allowing the efficacy and efficiency of patient care to be greatly improved. [3] For example, the discovery of genetic mutations linked to melanoma means precision medicine can be used in some cases, removing the need for painful and expensive chemotherapy.

Advancements in the field may lead to a better understanding the propensity for disease, allowing experts to identify vulnerable members of the population and intervene early to either delay or prevent the onset of disease. [4]

Precision techniques are generally high-cost, and are usually developed for use on relatively small groups of people. The price-per-patient is therefore high. [5] The NHS must therefore assess the feasibility of rolling put precision medicine onto a much wider scale, via further research and development in the area. Expansion is important if more patients are to benefit and the cost-saving potential of precision medicine is to be fully realised.

Public funding offers one possible solution, and could be used to subsidise the development of precision medicine, given the large potential impact on patient care and likelihood of future savings. Funding could also be offered in return for knowledge exchange between large pharmaceutical companies to accelerate the development process.


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