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Hong Kong set to become a player in genomic health

City launches genome sequencing effort
Hong Kong set to become a player in genomic health hero image

Hong Kong has laid out a road map to become a leader in genomic medicine.

Genomic medicine is an emerging branch of medicine that uses a person’s genomic information as a part of their clinical care. While genetics looks at specific genes or groupings of them, genomics looks at a person’s entire genetic makeup and how it can trigger everything from cancer to asthma.

Among other initiatives, the effort in Hong Kong includes the Hong Kong Genome Project, which would kick off mid-2021 and seeks to sequence the genomes of 20,000 patient cases—potentially including family members and other cohorts, for a total of up to 50,000 genomes—in hopes of better diagnosing rare illnesses and aiding cancer treatments. The effort would also create a network of biobanks—networks of human biological samples for use in research. Further, the Hong Kong project would also seek to iron out insurance coverage for genomic medicine and enable oversight of health-related do-it-yourself genetic testing.

One goal of the project is to increase the diagnostic rate for patients with rare genetic disorders, while another goal is to gain new insights into the genomic changes that cause cancer.

The sequencing program will roll out in two phases. The first is a pilot phase of 2,000 cases which will focus on undiagnosed diseases and cancers, while the second will focus on 18,000 cases—including disorders covered in phase one and other diseases as well as research cohorts who would benefit from whole-genome sequencing.

“Approved researchers would be able to access anonymized data for studies in cancer genomics, pharmacogenomics, phenotype-genotype associations, epigenomics, and other areas, with the expectation that the required databases would be implemented in phases,” noted genomeweb.

Hong Kong is, of course, not the first place to put focus on genomic health. The UK has sequenced the whole genomes of 100,000 residents, and China launched a nearly identical project in late 2017. There are also broad genomic health programs in Estonia, the US, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Turkey, Dubai, and France.

More details about the Hong Kong effort can be found here.

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