Wellcome, Pharmaceutical Firms Back UK Whole Genome Sequencing Project

Wellcome, Pharmaceutical Firms Back UK Whole Genome Sequencing Project

The Wellcome Sanger Institute in Hinxton, England, has announced a £200 million ($244 million) project to sequence the genomes of five hundred thousand volunteers and power the next wave of genetic and health research.

With funding of £50 million ($61 million) from the British government's research and innovation agency, UK Research and Innovation; £50 million ($61 million) from Wellcome; and contributions totaling £100 million ($122 million) from Amgen, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, and Johnson & Johnson, the Whole Genome Sequencing project is expected to yield a rich data resource for scientists working to understand, diagnose, treat, and prevent diseases. Following a pilot project involving fifty thousand volunteers from UK Biobank — which was established in 2006 by Wellcome and UK government agencies to collect data and samples from five hundred thousand people between the ages of 40 and 69 — the Sanger Institute and deCODE genetics in Iceland will sequence the genomes of the remaining four hundred and fifty thousand volunteers.

According to project officials, the sequencing data will be linked to detailed clinical and lifestyle data for each volunteer to create an encyclopedia of genetic information that is expected to generate new insights into why some people develop particular diseases and others do not. While industry partners will have preferential access to the data for nine months before it is released to other researchers, data for the entire cohort is expected to be made accessible to the scientific and medical communities by early 2023.

"This exciting new project will help scientists and doctors develop new ways of preventing, diagnosing, and treating a range of life-changing diseases such as cancer and dementia," said Wellcome's head of clinical research and physiological sciences, Sara Marshall. "By sequencing the genomes of the UK Biobank participants, the research community will have an unprecedented resource to gain new insights into human disease. This work would not be possible without the generous support of the five hundred thousand participants of the UK Biobank who, without any direct benefit to themselves, have allowed their lives to be studied through blood tests, body scans, and information from their medical records, all in the hope that it will benefit others."

(Photo credit: Wellcome Sanger Institute)

"500,000 Whole Human Genomes Will Be a Game-Changer for Research Into Human Diseases." Wellcome Sanger Institute Press Release 09/11/2019.