UK to lead fight against cancer and rare genetic disorders

He is pledging £300 million ($504 million) toward a project that he says will unlock the power of DNA to deliver better tests, better drugs and better care for patients.

The cash injection, together with new partnerships, is a big boost to the 100,000 Genomes Project, and promises to put the UK's life sciences sector at the "forefront of global advances in modern medicine," says a National Health Service (NHS) news release.

The research is expected to pave the way for genomics medicine to become routine in the NHS, and it is thought 40,000 NHS patients will benefit directly from it.

To better understand cancer and rare diseases - and particularly how they arise in individuals - scientists need to study genetic data taken from thousands and thousands of people.

To collect the data, the NHS will be asking tens of thousands of patients if they want to take part. Participation will only be by consent of patients, whose data will be held in Genomics England's secure databases. Pilot schemes in London, Cambridge and Newcastle have already collected data from a few hundred patients.

Life Sciences Minister George Freeman says the project will map genomes on a scale never seen before and "bring better treatments to people with cancers and rare diseases for generations to come."

The prime minister also unveiled a new partnership between Genomics England, a company established by the Department of Health to deliver the 100,000 genomes project, and Illumina, a private firm based in California that is providing the DNA sequencing technology.

Genomics England is providing £78 million ($131 million) in funds, while Illumina is investing around £162 million ($272 million) in the work in England over the 4 years of the project. The UK's Medical Research Council is also putting in £24 million ($40 million) for computer power to ensure patient data is properly analyzed, secured and used. NHS England is giving a further £20 million ($33 million).

The enterprise is expected to generate new jobs and expertise in genome sequencing, mainly in Cambridge, where the Wellcome Trust, a global charity that has already invested more than £1 billion ($1.6 billion) in genomic research, is also giving £27 million ($45 million) to set up a world-class sequencing hub at its Genome Campus in nearby Hinxton.

Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, says the NHS is set to become one of the world's "go-to" health services for the development of innovative genomic tests and treatments.

He says the UK's large and diverse population, with universal access to health care, data gathered over several years spanning diverse settings, combined with world-class medicine and science, are some of the many advantages that enable the NHS to deliver this groundbreaking project.

NHS England is now in the process of selecting the first NHS Genomics Medicine Centres, where cancer and rare disease patients will be invited to take part in the project and have their genomes sequenced.

Sir John Chisholm, executive chair of Genomics England, says the move represents a "real milestone," and Jay Flatley, CEO of Illumina describes it as a "momentous day for the UK."

Dr. Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, says medicine is increasingly relying on understanding what is going on in DNA, and in "rare congenital diseases, in cancer and in infections, genomic insights are already transforming diagnosis and treatment."

The project is another step toward individualized medicine that is gradually set to take over from the "one-size-fits-all" approach of chemotherapy in the treatment of cancer. It will become increasingly possible to treat not just a certain type of cancer, but also a certain type of cancer as it occurs in an individual.

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