Illumina, the U.K., and the Wellcome Trust have agreed to spend £311 million ($523.7 million) over four years to deliver on Prime Minister David Cameron’s promise to map 100,000 human genomes by 2017—a project designed to catapult the kingdom to global leadership in genetic research into cancer and rare diseases.

Key to the genome mapping effort will be a public-private partnership formed between sequencing giant Illumina and Genomics England—the entity created by the U.K. Department of Health to run the nation’s 100,000 Genomes Project. The project is focusing on patients with rare diseases, and their families, as well as patients with common cancers.

The 100,000 Genomes Project is currently in its pilot phase, in which “a few hundred” patients in London, Cambridge and Newcastle have already donated DNA samples, the website of the Daily Express newspaper reported. That number is expected to swell to about 10,000 patients by the end of next year, when the main project will have begun.

More than half the project funding—£162 million ($272.7 million)—will be contributed by Illumina toward infrastructure over four years. Genomics England will chip in £78 million ($131.3 million) toward Illumina services for whole genome sequencing. Of the remaining money: 

  • The Wellcome Trust will contribute £27 million ($45.5 million) toward a sequencing hub for Genomics England at its Genome Campus in Hinxton, Cambridgeshire. Genomics England researchers will work with partners from the Sanger Institute, as well as the European Bioinformatics Institute, and biotechnology companies, all based on campus. The institute is primarily funded by the trust.
  • The U.K. Medical Research Council, which funds medical research in the kingdom, said it has earmarked £24 million ($40.4 million) to help provide needed computing power so that patient data can be properly analyzed, interpreted and made available to doctors and researchers securely.
  • The U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS) England will contribute up to £20 million ($33.7 million) over the life of the project. About 40,000 NHS patients are expected to benefit directly from the research, which is designed to enable genomics-based medicine to become part of everyday practice.

“This agreement will see the U.K. lead the world in genetic research within years,” Cameron declared in a statement. “I am determined to do all I can to support the health and scientific sector to unlock the power of DNA, turning an important scientific breakthrough into something that will help deliver better tests, better drugs and above all better care for patients.”

Added Illumina CEO Jay Flatley: “This project confirms the U.K. as a leader in the global race to implement genomic technology and create a lasting legacy for patients, the NHS and the U.K. economy.”

This story has been corrected from an earlier version, which listed the U.K. prime minister's name as James Cameron, not David. GEN regrets the error.

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