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UK Biobank Set to Sequence 500,000 Whole Human Genomes

Posted on 22 October 2019

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The Icelandic company deCODE genetics will join the Wellcome Sanger Institute to read and assemble the whole genome sequences of 500,000 UK Biobank participants.

The UK Biobank’s whole genome sequencing project represents the single most ambitious sequencing program ever undertaken in the world. Building on the success of the Phase 1 vanguard project that sequenced the whole genomes of 50,000 UK Biobank participants (10%), £200Mn has been granted for Phase 2 of the project where the Sanger Institute in Cambridge and deCODE genetics in Iceland will sequence the genomes of the remaining 450,000 participants.

Funding was provided by a consortium of the UK government’s research and innovation agency (UKRI), the Wellcome Trust, and leading biopharmaceutical and healthcare companies Amgen, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Johnson & Johnson. After an exclusive access period of 9 months, it is expected that sequence data for the entire cohort of UK Biobank participants will become generally accessible by early 2023.

The UK Biobank is a rich data source that is unique in that it is readily available to approved academic and commercial researchers from around the world. Currently, participants have already provided blood, urine, and saliva samples for future analysis, detailed information about themselves and agreed to have their health followed on an anonymous basis. The addition of whole genome sequencing data will dramatically enhance the value of the resource and pave the way for personalised medicine, where treatments are based on an individual’s genetic make-up and preventive steps can be taken to help those most at risk because of their genes.

“Our goal, with the support of our participants, is to ensure that the UK Biobank resource is used for the widest range of health research to bring about advances in our understanding of disease as quickly as possible. There are plenty of valuable genetic data from UK Biobank already available, or becoming available, that are adding real impetus to current research,” said Professor Collins. “But the addition of whole genome sequence data will be the icing on the cake for the research community, and we’ll be able to deliver it remarkably soon.”

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