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UKHSA publishes new Pathogen Genomics Strategy

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has published its Pathogen Genomics Strategy, laying out a five-year plan for the organisation’s role in the wider delivery of pathogen genomics to prepare for and respond to infectious disease threats to public health.

The new strategy sets out a programme to improve UKHSA’s ability to detect and understand the pathogens that pose the greatest risks to the UK population, which will help to ensure that policy and public health decision making is underpinned by the best possible scientific evidence. 

Sequencing pathogen genomes to examine their genetic code can reveal vital information about their identity and ancestry. When combined with other health data and research, it becomes a powerful tool for understanding how a pathogen is behaving in a human population and why.

Genomics is able to detect new threats, by:

  • identifying outbreaks and find their source
  • tracking transmission of disease between people
  • understanding whether human immune responses will be protective
  • choosing the most effective vaccines for the population
  • detecting antimicrobial resistance and determine the optimal treatments for individual.

The COVID-19 pandemic response demonstrated that genomics can be fully integrated into public health systems and can inform decision-making locally, nationally and globally. The UK submitted over three million SARS-CoV-2 sequences to the international GISAID database over the course of the pandemic, a quarter of the global total and more than any other nation except the USA.

Since then, genomics has continued to show its value - identifying foodborne outbreaks, helping us to assess the risk from emerging pathogens like mpox and influenza and helping to inform the choice of treatment for diseases like tuberculosis.

The UKHSA Pathogen Genomics Strategy recognises that pathogen genomics is a crucial element of modern infectious disease control, and it will ensure that the UK remains at the forefront of genomic research, developing and implementing genomics to benefit public health, protect lives and livelihoods. By leveraging existing infrastructure, capacity, and scientific capabilities, the strategy outlines UKHSA’s vision for pathogen genomics over the next five years through seven strategic aims. These are:

  1. using pathogen genomic data to optimise clinical/public health decision-making, from local to global settings;
  2. using pathogen genomic data to drive improvements in diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics;
  3. providing a nationally coordinated, scaled-up pathogen genomics service;
  4. supporting a pathogen genomics workforce transformation within and beyond UKHSA;
  5. committing to pathogen genomic data sharing and global collaboration;
  6. driving innovation in pathogen genomics;
  7. building high-impact pathogen genomic services that are good value for money.

Each of these strategic aims will support and boost UK capability in 3 priority public health areas, directly aligned with UKHSA’s priorities: antimicrobial resistance; emerging infections and biosecurity; and vaccine preventable diseases and elimination programmes.

Dr Meera Chand, Deputy Director for Emerging Infections and Clinical Lead for the Genomics Programme at UKHSA said: “Pathogen genomics is an essential component of the world’s ability to respond quickly to infectious disease threats, whether by increasing the speed at which we can identify emerging pathogens or control outbreaks, or by improving our understanding of what treatments or vaccines might be effective. The new UKHSA Pathogen Genomics Strategy will provide a framework for us to build on our already substantial capacity in this area, and to implement genomics across all our work to keep the public safe from threats to their health.”

Read the ful Strategy document at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/ukhsa-pathogen-genomics-strategy

 

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