George Freeman highlights UK leadership in fast-emerging field of genomic medicine

17th November 2015

George Freeman highlights the progress being made by the world-leading Genomics England project which is sequencing 100,000 entire genomes of NHS patients to establish NHS and UK leadership in the fast-emerging field of genomic medicine.

Diagnostic Testing (Primary Care)

3. Maggie Throup (Erewash) (Con): What steps the Government are taking to improve diagnostic testing in primary care. [902110]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Life Sciences (George Freeman): The Government are determined to improve and invest in diagnostic testing in primary care. Diagnostics and breakthroughs in innovative diagnostics are key to a 21st-century NHS. That is why we have set up the medical technology strategy group, which I chair, to look at accelerating diagnostics into the system; the cancer strategy taskforce; the Prime Minister’s GP access fund; the new models of care programme; and the accelerated access review, which is looking to accelerate those diagnostics with particular value to patients and the system. We have also introduced the new guidelines for the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, and, through the genomics programme, we are investing in 21st-century molecular diagnostics, which will come to shape the future.

Maggie Throup: C-reactive protein point-of-care testing could reduce the number of prescriptions for antibiotics, contribute to the UK’s anti-microbial resistance strategy, and save the NHS millions of pounds each year. Ahead of my Adjournment debate on this issue next Monday, will the Minister agree to look at this type of testing as a way of saving the NHS money and providing appropriate patient treatments?

George Freeman: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. We are completely committed to tackling anti-microbial resistance, and reducing the volume of antibiotics prescribing is vital to that. We are a world leader in this field in tackling AMR. We have an expert group looking at how to improve diagnostic services in relation to AMR, and it has already identified what diagnostics are currently in use and what new technologies are on the horizon, including C-reactive protein point-of-care testing. The group is currently formulating conclusions. The public health Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison), is looking forward to responding to my hon. Friend’s debate on Monday to set out more of the detail.

Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): The Government have done a very good job in getting one-year cancer survival rates into the DNA of the NHS as a means of encouraging clinical commissioning groups to promote earlier diagnosis—cancer’s magic key. Does the Minister agree that we all need to ensure that we keep the CCGs’ feet close to the fire as regards these one-year figures so that we do not just improve diagnostic testing in primary care, but improve screening rates, GP referral rates and awareness campaigns as a means of ensuring that we save the thousands of lives that are needlessly lost through late diagnosis?

George Freeman: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I pay tribute to his work on this through the independent cancer taskforce. The aim is to save 30,000 more lives a year by 2020. We are working with Harpal Kumar and Cancer Research UK on implementing its recommendations. NICE has set out new guidelines on clear ambitions and standards on how quickly patients should be referred for diagnostics. There is good news in that in 2014-15, compared with 2009-10, over 4.3 million more imaging and endoscopy tests were commonly used to diagnose cancers, but I agree that we have much more still to do.

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Genomics England

7. Jo Churchill (Bury St Edmunds) (Con): What progress has been made by Genomics England in making the UK the world leader in genomic medicine. [902114]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Life Sciences (George Freeman): The Genomics England project, which was launched by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, has electrified the global life and health science community. We are the first nation on earth to commit to sequencing 100,000 entire genomes of NHS patients, which will be combined with patient records to unlock NHS and UK leadership in the fast-emerging field of genomic medicine, focusing initially on rare diseases and cancer. I am delighted to report that we have the genomes of 5,000 patients fully sequenced and that 11 genomic medicine centres have been set up. We have identified first diagnostics and treatments for some rare diseases; 2,500 researchers are involved in the project; the cost of sequencing a genome has fallen from £5,000 to £1,000; and, importantly, NHS England is setting the international standard on ethics and patient consent in genomic medicine.

Jo Churchill: Does the Minister agree that the world-leading Genomics England will deliver a personalised and patient-centred revolution in modern healthcare by combining the talent of global companies such as AstraZeneca with that of UK-based companies such as Congenica in my region, to the benefit of patients with cancer and other rare diseases, the vitality of our NHS and, through jobs and innovation, the strength of our economy?

George Freeman: My hon. Friend makes a great point. I pay tribute to Congenica, a small company in Cambridge that is doing extraordinary work. I recently went to open Illumina’s global research and development headquarters, which is a £160-million commitment. As well as the significant investment in technology and research in the UK, NHS England is leading genomic medicine across the UK, not just in the Oxford-Cambridge-London triangle, but through 11 genomic medicine centres across the country, which are bringing genomic diagnostics to the benefit of us all.

John Pugh (Southport) (LD): The Minister will know of the case of one-year-old Layla Richards, who was saved from leukaemia by genome editing at Great Ormond Street hospital. What specific help does he give for such hands-on pioneering work?

George Freeman: The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. Genome editing is the latest in a suite of technologies that is rapidly emerging in genomics. Through the Genomics England programme, we are actively supporting those tools and intermediate technologies, and through the accelerated access review that I have launched, we are looking to harness those breakthroughs to support new treatments and new flexibilities for the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and NHS England on targeted treatments.

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