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Government vows to make UK “life sciences superpower” with £37M genomics investment

The Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock has announced a £37 million investment in genomics projects and data-driven initiatives, which could see patients, including those affected by epilepsy, benefit from better research, treatment, and improved clinical decision-making.

The life sciences sector made significant progress in response to the COVID pandemic, and this investment aims to harness this momentum, ensuring the sector’s growth beyond the pandemic and establishing the UK as a “life sciences superpower”. The announcement was made at the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) annual conference and will be delivered through the Genome UK Implementation Plan and UK Functional Genomics Initiative.

Genomics is the study of a person’s entire DNA, and this new support for the UK Functional Genomics Initiative will drive groundbreaking new approaches to improve understanding of how genetic changes can cause disease. Genomics sequencing will be used as a routine part of everyday diagnosis and treatment, bringing benefits to patients by giving doctors the tools to make better clinical decisions through faster diagnosis and more precise treatments.

Dr Kate Baker, Clinical Geneticist and member of Epilepsy Research UK’s Scientific Advisory Committee said:

“People with epilepsy have an enormous amount to gain from genomics.  We know that a high proportion of people with epilepsy have an underlying genetic diagnosis – finding each person’s genetic cause can provide guidance on safe and effective epilepsy treatment, and pinpoint other medical problems and mental health difficulties which are all too common and debilitating amongst people with epilepsy. It’s great to hear about investments in genomic medicine so that more people with epilepsy can access a rapid and accurate diagnosis. However, genetic diagnosis is far from the end of an odyssey for people with epilepsy and their families – we now need to understand how tiny DNA differences can cause dramatic, and dramatically different, symptoms for each person, so that the hope of personalised treatments and better long-term outcomes can become the norm, rather than the exception.”

In March, our Research Blog and Research Roundtable Webinar focussed on the theme of Genetics and Epilepsy. You can watch our recent Research Roundtable on Genetics and Epilepsy, featuring Dr Kate Baker, Dr Charles Steward and ERUK Emerging Leader Fellow Dr Gabriele Lignani here.

You can learn more about the study of genomics and its relevance to epilepsy in this blog from Dr Charles Steward, Patient Advocacy and Engagement Lead at Congenica.

The new funding will also be invested in initiatives to harness UK health data for life sciences research, as part of the ambition to make the UK the most advanced and data-enabled clinical research environment in the world. This will include investment in streamlining and delivering clinical trials, funding to develop medicines, vaccines and health technologies to support cutting-edge research, and studies supporting the earlier detection of diseases.

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