Newcastle experts set to deliver world-leading project in fight against cancer and rare diseases

Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is chosen as one of 11 centres in country to lead breakthrough genomics project

Sir Leonard Fenwick
Sir Leonard Fenwick

A hospital trust in the North East has been chosen as one of the 11 lead centres in England to help deliver a pioneering project to help people with cancer and rare diseases.

Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is part of the 100,000 Genomes Project, an ambitious plan to map 100,000 complete genetic codes of patients.

Scientists and doctors hope the £300m initiative, launched by the Prime Minister earlier this year, will transform medicine by uncovering DNA data that can be used to develop personalised diagnostic procedures and drugs.

The North East and North Cumbria NHS Genome Medicine Centre (GMC) will be led by the Northern Genetic Service, based at Newcastle University’s Institute of Genetic Medicine at the International Centre for Life in Newcastle.

Dr Paul Brennan, clinical director for the Northern Genetics Service and consultant in clinical genetics said: “This is an extremely exciting time for healthcare. When I became a Consultant 12 years ago I wouldn’t have even dreamed that routine whole genome sequencing would be possible within my career.

“We know through extensive research and many years of clinical practice that many diseases have a significant genetic cause. By identifying the genetic variants that underlie a particular condition in a particular person or family, we can understand why the condition has happened, help other members of the family understand their own risks, and work towards more tailored, effective treatments.

“The 100,000 Genomes Project means we can use people’s DNA to fully document their genomic information and understand their health risks in detail, tailoring treatment, screening and lifestyle to an individual person. This is the major challenge for healthcare over the next decade. The people of the North East and North Cumbria are pioneers in a world-leading development.”

More than 100 patients with cancer and rare inherited diseases have already had their genomes sequenced during the project’s pilot phase.

The first wave of GMCs will be linked to NHS trusts in locations covering Newcastle, London, Manchester, Oxford, Birmingham, Cambridge, Southampton and Exeter.

Ultimately the aim is to secure the participation of more than 100 NHS trusts over the project’s three-year lifespan.

Combining information from DNA samples with patients’ health records will improve the prediction and prevention of cancers and rare diseases, experts believe.

Although strict security measures are in place to protect the identity and private details of patients, universities and drug companies will be allowed to use the data for research.

Sir Leonard Fenwick, chief executive of Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: “Our Northern Genetics Service, in partnership with Newcastle University’s Institute of Genetic Medicine, is already a world-leader in the field of genetic research, with a long history of our experts’ discoveries being translated into new insights and treatments.

“Being chosen as one of the 11 centres in the first wave of national Genomic Medicine Centres further underpins our reputation, and we are delighted to play such a key role in the progression of genetic medicine, to the benefit of generations to come.”

Between 50,000 and 75,000 men, women and children are expected to participate in the project and have their genomes sequenced.

Cancer patients will contribute two genomes, one from blood and another from a tumour sample. Genomes will also be sequenced from the close relatives of patients with inherited diseases.

To start with the project will focus on five common cancers - breast, bowel, ovarian, lung and CLL leukaemia - and 110 inherited conditions.

Suitable patients will be identified by their clinicians and put forward for genome sequencing after giving their informed consent. Patients can change their mind about participating at any time.

George Freeman MP
George Freeman MP

Life Sciences Minister George Freeman said: “Our understanding of genomics is transforming the landscape for disease diagnosis and medicines research. We want to make the UK the best place in the world to design and discover 21st century medicines which is why we have invested in the 100,000 Genomes Project.

“It is great news for North East that Newcastle Hospitals will help us sequence genomes on an unprecedented scale and bring better treatments to people with cancers and rare diseases for generations to come.”

A US company, Illumina, will carry out the actual sequencing using technology invented by British scientists at Cambridge University. After samples are collected and processed in Newcastle, they will be sent securely to Illumina to sequence the whole genome and to analyse it. Results will be sent back to the Northern Genetics Service for validation and clinical action.

Sir Bruce Keogh
Sir Bruce Keogh

Prof Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS England’s National Medical Director, said: “This is an achievable ambition which positions Britain to unlock longstanding mysteries of disease on behalf of humankind.

“Embracing genomics will position us at the forefront of science and make the NHS the most scientifically advanced healthcare system in the world. This is the start of a unique, exciting journey that will bring benefits for patients, for the NHS and for society at large.”


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