West Midlands to deliver world-leading genomics project

23 December 2014

Photo: researcher with microscope

The West Midlands will deliver one of 11 centres across the country that will lead the way in delivering the 100,000 Genomes Project.

The three-year project, announced yesterday by NHS England and launched by the Prime Minister earlier this year, will transform diagnosis and treatment for patients with cancer and rare diseases.

The initiative involves collecting and decoding 100,000 human genomes – complete sets of people’s genes – that will enable scientists and doctors to understand more about specific conditions.

The West Midlands Genomics Medicine Centre (WM GMC) will deliver up to 18,000 of the total number of genomes, drawing on its unique population demographic through a collaboration of 18 healthcare organisations.

University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust is leading the WM GMC with the University of Birmingham as its academic partner. The other regional Trusts in the consortium are:

  • Birmingham Children’s Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
  • Birmingham Women’s Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
  • Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust
  • Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust
  • University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust
  • University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust
  • The Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust
  • George Eliot Hospital NHS Trust
  • South Warwickshire NHS Foundation Trust
  • Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust
  • Wye Valley NHS Trust
  • Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust
  • Royal Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
  • Royal Shrewsbury Hospitals NHS Trust
  • Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
  • Burton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust

The collaboration will be underpinned by the West Midlands Academic Health Science Network (WMAHSN), which brings together innovation and knowledge to allow the health and wealth of the population of the West Midlands to improve and prosper.

Professor Dion Morton, Acting Director of the WM GMC, said: “We are delighted to be a key part of this groundbreaking national project.

“The West Midlands’ diverse population, coupled with the rich expertise of our collaborative colleagues, has the potential to put the region at the centre of genomics world-wide.

“The 100,000 Genomes Project provides the impetus to develop genomics analysis as a core component of specialist hospital services. In the WM region, we will be embedding this across 18 different hospitals.

“The project can provide a platform that will transform hospital specialist service, initiate world-class research and link up services across the WM region, enabling highest quality care to be provided at all centres across a wide range of conditions.”

Dr Chris Parker, Managing Director of the WMAHSN, said: “This is a fantastic outcome for the West Midlands. Our success is down to the fact that we presented such a complete and collaborative bid. We had the backing of all our hospital trusts, and the achievement is very much down to the effort and assistance shown by many people across the area.

“Needless to say, this is just the beginning. There is a great deal of work still to do but the benefits for the West Midlands will be enormous. Not only will patients gain from the transformation in diagnosis and treatment for cancer and rare diseases, but the regional healthcare system will profit from closer working. By working in partnership, we can prepare our workforce to operate in a transformed health environment for the ultimate benefit of our patients and the population as a whole, as well as exploiting the better sharing of data for research and other purposes and creating jobs for the local economy.”

Dr Trevor Cole, Consultant in Clinical and Cancer Genetics and Honorary Reader in Medical Genetics, said: “The West Midlands Genomics Medicine Centre will transform the diagnostic process and disease specific management for patients with rare diseases, which collectively affect 1 in 17 of the population.

“Our unique proposal to deliver this across 18 trusts in the West Midlands will accelerate the application of genomic technologies by the widest range of healthcare professionals anywhere in the NHS and enhance accessibility to the 21st century care across the whole region.”

The project could improve the prediction and prevention of disease, enable new and more precise diagnostic tests, and allow personalisation of drugs and other treatments to specific genetic variants.

Some participating patients will benefit because a conclusive diagnosis can be reached for a rare and inherited disease more quickly, or because a treatment for cancer can be targeted at the particular genetic change that is present in the cancer. But for a number of patients, the benefit will be in the improvement in our knowledge of the influence of genetics on disease and how it is expressed in an individual, how other people can be helped with similar diseases in the future, and how different types of tests can be developed to detect changes beyond the genome.

The WM GMC was selected because collectively the partners have a track record of providing excellence in genomic services and have been evaluated by NHS England to ensure they meet the requirements to deliver the project.

It is anticipated that around 75,000 people will be involved nationally, which will include some patients with life-threatening and debilitating disease. Recruitment to the project will begin from 2 February 2015.

After samples are collected, they will be sent securely to Illumina who have been procured by Genomics England to sequence the whole genome and to analyse it. Results will be sent back to the NHS for validation and clinical action.