Patients set to benefit from New Genomics Medicine Centre in the West of England

15 December 2015

Patients in the West of England are set to benefit from a new NHS Genomic Medicine Centre.

A partnership made up of NHS provider organisations in Bristol, Bath, Cheltenham and Gloucestershire, universities in the region, the West of England Academic Health Science Network, NHS commissioners and patient organisations has been designated the West of England NHS Genomic Medicine Centre (WEGMC).

Up and running by February 2016, the centre, based in Bristol, will be part of the three-year project, launched by the Prime Minister, to transform diagnosis and treatment for patients with cancer and rare diseases.

This 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. It could allow personalisation of drugs and other treatments to specific genetic variants.

Clinicians from the hospitals involved will recruit potentially eligible patients. Then patients choosing to be involved will take part in a test which will then be processed in a lab at Southmead Hospital, before being sent nationally for sequencing.

Some of the patients involved could benefit from a quicker conclusive diagnosis for a rare and inherited disease or cancer because treatment may be targeted at a particular genetic change.

Life Sciences Minister George Freeman MP said,

“The opening of this centre, as part of our revolutionary 100,000 Genomes Project to sequence the genomes of NHS patients with cancer and rare diseases, underlines the UK’s position as a world leader in 21st century medicine.

“Patients are at the heart of the project. That’s why we have chosen NHS sites like this to sequence DNA on an unprecedented scale, which will bring better treatments to people with rare diseases and cancer in the West of England.”

Tony Gallagher, Chair of WEGMC, said

“This is an important step forward for patients and the development of future treatments in the West of England. Working together we have teams of dedicated and experienced doctors, nurses, counsellors, scientists, managers, commissioners and academics who are committed to realising the transformative possibilities that genomic medicine offers to patients in our area.”

Caroline Gamlin, NHS England South West Medical Director, said:

“This is a huge tribute to the quality of our medical science in the west. Our local doctors will help to create ground-breaking discoveries about diseases, predict who is susceptible and design personalised treatments to tackle them.”

The national project to sequence 100,000 genomes was announced by the Prime Minister in 2012 in a bid to transform diagnosis and treatment for patients with cancer and rare diseases in the fast-emerging field of genomic medicine. NHS England established 11 NHS Genomic Medicine Centres (GMCs) in 2014. A year on, two more GMCs have been announced – one for the West of England and the second in Yorkshire and Humber.

Professor Ruth Newbury-Ecob is a leading member of the West of England partnership. She works in the Clinical Genetics Service at University Hospitals Bristol which provides genetic services for Bristol, Bath Gloucestershire and Somerset. Specialising in rare diseases including inherited cardiac conditions, she works with colleagues  at the Bristol Royal Hospital for Children and the Bristol Heart Institute to provide specialist multidisciplinary care She works closely with the Regional Genetics Laboratory at North Bristol NHS Trust to develop new genetic testing, translating research findings into NHS services for patients across the UK. She said,

“Genomics has the potential to transform healthcare by developing a more tailored individualised approach to patient care and through better screening and targeting treatments to prevent development of diseases such as cancer and heart disease. The West of England partnership has brought together multiple interested parties for the first time to bring about this wonderful transformation in healthcare.”

Patients are involved in planning the service. Deborah Evans, Managing Director of the West of England Academic Health Science Network, said,

“In recent weeks I’ve been involved in interviews with people locally who have experienced rare diseases or cancer and their carers, and we have gathered very rich and useful insights that will help us plan our new services. It has been humbling and inspiring to hear first-hand these stories from people who, when faced with cancer or a rare familial disease, have not only coped with extraordinary life-changing challenges for themselves or their families, but still have the commitment to contribute more for other people through this research which will play such an important role in the future of medicine and treatment.” 

Tara Mistry from Bristol said:

“As someone with personal experience of cancer, with a diagnosis before the age of 40 and with two young daughters having grown up under the shadow of their mother’s surgery and subsequent treatments, this news of the Genomic Medicine Centre for the West of England is just fantastic.

“I’m so pleased that I and other patients have been involved in helping design aspects of this new service from a patient perspective because we have enormous interest in making this work for the prevention of illness in our children and communities. It’s so good to feel that this service can help target treatments to individuals and so make us less sick while being treated and hopefully eliminate the disease altogether – so my daughters and others may not have to go through this in their lives. I look forward to being more involved as this project unfolds.”

Professor Aniko Varadi from the University of the West of England in Bristol will lead the work in education and training. She said, “It is critical that the workforce in the NHS is educated and trained to ensure the effective delivery of genomic technologies. The education and training programme supports the delivery of the 100,000 Genomes Project but it goes well beyond that. The ultimate aim is that the next generation of clinicians, scientists and multi-disciplinary healthcare teams have the awareness, knowledge and capacity to apply genomics to clinical practice.