January 11, 2013

What is going on with the UK?

The United Kingdom is punching above its weight in genomics.

Compared to the other two European countries I've covered on this blog - France and Germany - the UK is the clear genomics leader in genomics. The reason is not so much that the rest of Europe has neglected genomics, but that the UK has gone all in.

The Sanger Institute, where I work, is a good example of this. It made the single largest contribution to the Human Genome Project, and it is still going strong. Together with the Broad Institute, it is today the leading genomics institute worldwide in terms of high-impact citations, and amongst the largest sequencing centres in the world. It is largely funded not by the British government, but by the Wellcome Trust, a charitable foundation.

Sequencing technology is another example. Both the most prominent sequencing technology used today and the technology that many see as most promising for the future were developed in the UK. Sequencing by synthesis, which produces most sequencing data nowadays, was developed at the University of Cambridge before being spun out into a company called Solexa, which was acquired by Illumina in 2007. The company that is most likely to first bring nanopore sequencing to the market, Oxford Nanopore, is also located in the UK.

The British government is keen to keep and expand the UK's capabilities in genomics. Last December, it announced plans to sequence up to 100,000 patients in the NHS, the UK's publicly funded healthcare system. It has not announced many details, except that it has earmarked £100 million for this project. This money will not only cover the sequencing, but also training and the development of bioinformatics capacity. This is about all the information that has been made public about this project, but a more detailed plan is expected by June this year.

Especially compared to similarly sized countries such as France, Germany, or Japan, the UK has a strong base in genomics, and there seems to be enough public commitment to ensure that this is not going to change over the next few years.

This post is a part of a series on genomics in different countries, which has already covered Canada, China, France, Germany, and Japan.


  1. To add to your commentary, QuantuMDx from Newcastle has developed a portable DNA sequencer to aide the translation of genomics discoveries directly to the clinic and has a project that looks set to deliver the next generation of DNA sequencing platforms after Nanopore devices. I also hear that a certain FET based technology developed at Imperial College is doing great things in the post-light world for Life Tech. Clearly UK genomics success is happening nationwide, not just Oxbridge.

    1. Thank you for pointing out QuantuMDx, which may have the best visual design of any diagnostic device out there. I saw a picture of the camouflage-coloured version some time ago - awesome!