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UK widens patient access to genomic cancer tests

Government will also consider Human Genomics Strategy Group’s genomic technology recommendations

The UK's National Health Service (NHS) will make molecular tests more widely available so clinicians can move away from the “blanket prescription” of cancer drugs.

The tests use genomic technology to tell in advance whether patients are likely to respond to a particular drug, helping to provide targeted treatment for individual patients.

But before the NHS can use them the molecular tests will need to win the backing of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence's (NICE). Once that's done a new commissioning and funding structure will be set up for them, which the government wants the NHS Commissioning Board to oversee.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said the new system would “ensure speedy introduction of high quality tests” to improve patients' survival chances and quality of life.

“The promise of genomic technology, with its capacity to improve our understanding of the nature of disease and how our genes can inform our response to therapy, is immense but as yet developmental.

“The ability to use molecular testing of cancers to match individuals to the most appropriate treatment is revolutionary,” he said.

Human Genomics Strategy Group reports on genomic technology

The announcement on wider access to molecular tests for cancer came on the same day the Human Genomics Strategy Group released its report to the government on genomic technology.

The body, an independent cross-government advisory group, was set up in response to the 2009 House of Lords report on genomic medicine.

Chaired by Professor Sir John Bell, its report highlights the UK's achievements in genetics research to date and proposes a strategic vision to realise the future benefit of genomics.

Professor Bell said: “Genomics expands our knowledge beyond single gene analysis to the whole genome, increasing our ability to gauge an individual's risk of disease and support better diagnosis and treatment. The UK is a leader in genomic research.

“The Human Genomics Strategy Group wants to see this position maintained – and built upon. This will take a concerted effort from all the key players in research, academia, industry and the NHS.

“Adopting the recommendations in our report would lead to further revolutionary developments in our ability to diagnose, treat and prevent disease, and I urge the Government to consider these.”

The group's six recommendations are:

• To develop a cross-cutting strategic document, to set out the direction on genomic technology adoption in the NHS

• To develop a national central genomic data storage facility

• That the NHS Commissioning Board should lead on developing genomic technology adoption

• To work to develop a service delivery model for genomic technologies

• That the NHS should continue to develop genomics education and training

• To raise public awareness of genomic technology and its benefits

The Department of Health said it would respond in full to the Human Genomics Strategy Group's report in due course.

27th January 2012

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