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Push for more genetic testing on the NHS

Report urges government to harness genetic technology

Jo Carlowe

Monday, 30 January 2012

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) is to assess new genetic tests as part of a drive to adopt more genetic technology in the NHS, says a new report.

The report from the Human Genomics Strategy Group sets out recommendations for using more genetic technology in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease.

In this report the Strategy group calls on the government to produce a White Paper to set out policy direction on genomic technology adoption in the NHS.

The report also says NICE's Diagnostics Assessment Programme should play a key role in the clinical evaluation of new genetic tests, by ensuring those that are clinically and cost effective are established rapidly and consistently in the NHS. It further recommends that NICE should collaborate with the UK Genetic Testing Network and the NHS Commissioning Board to develop a process for evaluating the clinical effectiveness of all genetic and genomic tests. This should include developing a set of relevant quality standards.

Genomic technologies are being used to support the stratification of cancer treatment, and NICE has already recommended the use of targeted drug therapy with imatinib for patients with gastrointestinal stromal tumours (GISTs).

More than 1,000 genetic tests are also already available through the NHS to identify disease, allowing for earlier diagnosis and treatment of certain conditions.

The report calls for more mainstream adoption of both genomic technologies and genetic testing, as they have the ability to "transform the delivery of healthcare in the UK".

It says genetic technology allows more patients to receive right treatment at the right time, through selecting specific treatments for people based on the particular nature of their disease.

Though the government is yet to confirm whether it will carry out the recommendations outlined in the report, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has pledged new funding for molecular tests for cancer.

Mr Lansley said: "We want to make sure that all patients can benefit from these tests - as soon as the tests are recommended by NICE.

"We have therefore been working to establish a new system to ensure speedy introduction of high quality tests. This is the way forward for the future."

Professor Sir John Bell, Chair of the Human Genomics Strategy Group, added: "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."

Professor Carole Longson, NICE Health Technology Evaluation Centre Director, commented: "We welcome this report which will enhance the role of NICE and its Diagnostics Assessment Programme in the evaluation of important genetic tests."

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