Discovery Forum: partnership on an industrial scale

The time for talking about the potential of genomic medicine has passed. As England’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Dame Sally Davies, writes in her report, Generation Genome, “Genomics is not tomorrow. It’s here today.”  Joanne Hackett, Genomics England Chief Commercial Officer, writes for DigitalHealth.London.

Genomics – on an industrial scale

Genomics will transform patient outcomes and healthcare systems – and NHS England is already moving to make a mainstream genomics medicine service a reality. Realising this potential fully, however, demands more. As the CMO notes, we need to make the leap from genomic medicine as a “cottage industry”’ to genomic medicine on an industrial scale. It may sound obvious, but this transformation can only take place with deep industry partnerships in place.

Kick starting a UK genomics industry has been a core Genomics England aim from the outset. It recognises that – whilst NHS England, Genomics England and others build the data resources, infrastructure and systems – it is industry that develops the medicines, treatments and technologies that have such a big impact on patients’ lives.

Clearly, effective industry partnership also has the potential to deliver a boost to the UK’s economic health. The Government’s Industrial Strategy White Paper focuses on the Life Sciences as a growth driver – already bringing £64 billion a year to the UK economy and employing over 220,000 highly skilled scientific staff. Seizing the opportunities of the genomics sector will generate ever-stronger growth.

A catalyst for discovery

Building on learning from earlier industry partnership projects, Genomics England’s Discovery Forum marks an acceleration in our work to consolidate the UK as the global centre of genomic research, discovery and investment.

Fundamentally, the Forum aims to catalyse the entire genomics ecosystem: from small and specialised startups all the way through to the big pharma companies. The goal is to align the right companies with the right opportunities. It is a virtuous circle: high levels of investment stimulate the growth of new and existing businesses – which attracts the world’s best research talent − who create the most innovative technologies – which attracts high levels of investment.

We held our first Discovery Forum in November 2017 and the appetite from industry was clear – with more than 120 attendees representing more than 50 companies from the genomics domain. Importantly, and for the first time, investors joined the partnership.

Content focused specifically on areas that industry has identified as important: effective engagement with Genomics England; access to information and research; and maximising the usefulness of the Forum network. Sessions included:

  • Progress of the 100,000 Genomes Project
  • Genomics England’s commercial and Intellectual Property strategy
  • Genomics England’s data and research platforms
  • The NHS genomics environment – presented by Professor Sue Hill, NHS England’s Chief Scientific Officer
  • Understanding how to access research and the work of the Genomics England Clinical Interpretation Partnerships (GeCIPs)
  • Exemplars of work between industry and Genomics England.

Forum members were also able to ask ‘live’ questions during the event – using an interactive platform. Answers were either given in real time, or collected for later and more detailed responses.

Evaluation is a core objective of every Forum – ensuring that we continually deliver to industry need. I’m delighted to say that feedback from this meeting suggests we hit the ground running. We will carry this forward to our next Forum in March, as well as other global partnership opportunities such as our presentation on leveraging the UK lead in genomics in San Francisco on 8 January 2018.

Partnership − on an industrial scale

Genomics is made up of many moving parts – from the understanding and consent of the public, to truly pioneering research, to building an effective NHS infrastructure. But make no mistake, the Discovery Forum and the industry partnerships it builds are every bit as important to the success of genomic medicine.

As I said at the start of this blog, the time for talking about genomic potential is past. The time to talk to business – and forge partnership on an industrial scale — is now.