Cost-effectiveness analysis and genetics – the zombie technique that will never die

Terry Flynn recently blogged on how treatment tailored to genes will kill economic evaluation. It’s a catchy title that I hope will draw health economists working outside of genetics into a growing debate on the best way to do economic evaluation in genetics and genomics. However, I don’t entirely agree with everything that Terry said and wanted to respond on a few points:

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What are the real costs of sequencing?

I normally steer well clear of the topic of sequencing in newborn babies because this area raises so many social, legal and ethical questions that go way beyond the clinical/economics perspective that we’re used to considering. However, I read an interesting commentary piece the other day by Jacques Beckmann titled ‘Can we afford to sequence every newborn baby’s genome?’ which I think deserves a wider audience for two reasons. One, it reminded me of a comment that Professor Sir John Burn (director, NHS England) made during the recent Astellas Innovation Debate in London. Jonathan Dimbleby asked if he could see whole genome sequencing (WGS) being rolled out to everyone across the UK, to which he replied: “the reality is that even when we get the 100,000 Genomes Project fully operational and get it absorbed, we’ll only be doing maybe 30,000-50,000 whole genomes a year – we’d have to do 600,000 a year to catch up with the new babies”. Second, I think there are some points raised in this article that go beyond newborn screening and are directly applicable to the economic evaluation of genomic testing in a variety of clinical contexts.

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