Dr. Anne Jones, CEO at Genomics Medicine Ireland Group

While Ireland has lagged behind other developed countries when it comes to genomics medicine, we have an opportunity to leapfrog other initiatives and become a leading healthcare provider in precision medicine with the right investment and partnership between public and private sectors.

Public-private approaches to medical research are the norm across developed societies, as they enable faster, more cost-effective, actionable results. This is true of genomic research initiatives internationally. The Genomics England project, which to date has been largely funded from the public sector, states that it will require the involvement of commercial companies from an early stage to achieve its aims; similarly, Finland’s FinnGen has nine commercial partners.

Genomically-based approaches to medicine are already having an immense impact on the potential for how patients are treated – and we’ve only scratched the surface. Examples include:

• Taking a genomically-based approach is already shifting medicine from reaction to prevention such as earlier intervention and screening in people with BRCA1, BRCA2 variants as it relates to a predisposition to breast or cervical cancer, or people with familial hypercholesterolemia can now avail of therapies that reduce cholesterol by blocking the PCSK9 variant.

• We can apply more targeted therapies and reduce errors. For example, patients who express HER2 protein, can take Herceptin to slow down or stop the cancer cells growing and help the immune system to kill cancer cells.

• We can reduce adverse drug reactions: leveraging genomics to inform treatment would allow medical professionals to treat patients who are fast metabolisers with lower dosages and lower metabolisers with higher dosages.

• Contributing to drug discovery and diagnostics: The drug, Keytruda, is an immunotherapy proven effective for treatment of positive advanced or metastatic non-small cell lung cancer patients with a biomarker called PD-L1.

• Studying ultra-rare diseases can avoid lengthy and often painful diagnostic odyssey. At GMI, we are using the latest genetic research approaches to look for answers for children, and their families, with undiagnosed disorders. In conjunction with Children’s Health Ireland at Temple Street, we are providing access to free genomic sequencing at our Genomics Centre in Cherrywood. Working directly with doctors, we hope to identify genetic variants in roughly a third of the cases we analyse using whole genome sequencing. For cases that remain unsolved, reanalysis of these cases over time also has the potential to solve more cases in the future.

Though we don’t have the benefit (yet) of integration of genomics and precision medicine into our healthcare approaches in Ireland, the benefits of public-private partnership in genomics in Ireland are already being felt in this country. Genomics Medicine Ireland (GMI) is currently working with our Irish clinical and research partners on returning datasets from their patients for their own research initiatives. The scale of the research we are conducting will include up to 400,000 participants and roughly 60 conditions and has the potential to bring many collaborative opportunities and scientific publications to the fore putting Ireland’s genomic research on centre stage. Symbiotic relationships such as these will generate additional research, foster the creation of new genomics and life sciences start-ups, and create increased employment and the development of an international genomics hub within Ireland.

Other countries are taking a lead in genomic research and Ireland is falling further behind with each passing year. The opportunity for Ireland to become a leader in precision medicine is now and GMI looks forward to making a positive contribution to it.