Genomes Project leaders outline new era in medical care

Two leading figures heading the 100,000 Genomes Project in Oxford have told how precision medicine is changing the way we approach treatment for cancer and rare diseases.

Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme, Professor Richard Barker and Dr Anna Schuh, associate professor of molecular diagnostics at Oxford University and director of the Oxford NHS Genomic Medicine Centre, told how a major clinical trial has identified that a pioneering drug originally developed to treat women with inherited cancers can also benefit men with advanced prostate cancer.

The trial is a milestone in cancer treatment as it’s the first to show the benefits of ‘precision medicine’ in prostate cancer – with treatment matched to the particular genetic characteristics of a man’s tumour.

Both Professor Barker and Dr Schuh suggest that this new approach – based on molecular and genetic medicine – could mean changing the way we define diseases and how we treat them.

For the NHS, this could mark the start of changes to medical practice, including how doctors and pharmacists are trained. It could also usher in a whole new approach to diagnostics and the treatment of diseases.

Dr Anna Schuh said: “For me, precision medicine means giving the right treatment to the right patient at the right time. Apart from having very effective treatment, you also need to get the diagnosis right… and need to have close monitoring, both in early detection of cancers but also once patients have been treated, to look at the way treatment has worked.”

Professor Barker, Head of the Centre for the Advancement of Sustainable Medical innovation and chair of the government’s Precision Medicine Catapult, said: “The 100,000 Genomes Project has sent a national and international signal that our future is genomic medicine.”