Wellcome Trust Announces Major Increase in Human Genome Sequencing

The Wellcome Trust has announced a major increase in its flagship investment in British science in the sequencing of the human genome, the book of life.

The Wellcome Trust has announced a major increase in its flagship investment in British science in the sequencing of the human genome, the book of life. Previously committed to funding the sequencing of one sixth of the human genome at the Sanger Centre, the Wellcome Trust has today decided to double this to one third. This decision will make available an additional £110 million over seven years, bringing the total Trust investment in the Human Genome Project to £205 million.

The Trust is concerned that commercial entities might file opportunistic patents on DNA sequence. The Trust is conducting an urgent review of the credibility and scope of patents based solely on DNA sequence. It is prepared to challenge such patents.

The Wellcome Trust is the leading European funder of human genome sequencing and has established the Wellcome Trust Genome Campus to help achieve this. Its early entry into this work has enabled Dr John Sulston, Director of the Sanger Centre, and his colleagues, to generate one third of all the sequence which has been produced to date. Today's announcement will ensure the maintenance of this position.

The Human Genome Project is one of the most significant projects being carried out in scientific research. The aim of the programme is to identify, to a high degree of accuracy, the complete sequence of the human genome and make this data immediately and freely available to the international research community so as to increase the effectiveness of biomedical research at all levels.

This work is vital to:

  • future health
  • the understanding of biology
  • the UK pharmaceutical industry
  • support the strong UK biomedical science base

The Human Genome Project is an international project with the most substantial funding contributions coming from the Wellcome Trust and the US government. The Sanger Centre and Washington University at St Louis in US have led the international collaborative process and through specific meetings coordinating the Human Genome Project, established the international policy of free release of data, putting it in the public domain.

This week a commercial venture announced its intention to produce partial sequence of the human genome, to delay release of this information and to have exclusive rights to patent some of these sequences. This venture will not fulfil the aims of the international collaboration of the Human Genome Project, although it will provide complementary information.

The Wellcome Trust believes that the human genome should be sequenced, through an international collaboration, as speedily and accurately as possible, with the results being placed immediately in the public domain. To this end, it is to open discussions with existing members of the Human Genome Project with a view to an international agreement whereby up to 50 per cent of the genome could be sequenced in the UK.

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