Whole genome sequencing costs – a step in the right direction

It is now well documented that health economic evidence to inform commissioning decisions regarding genomic tests is in short supply. This lack of evidence relates to both costs and health outcomes – there is perhaps an understandable tendency to focus on the issues surrounding the measurement of health outcomes in genomics, but data on costs is equally sparse and the generation of such data is also beset by practical and methodological challenges. That said, in the past twelve months we have started to finally see some good quality data emerging on the costs of whole genome and whole exome sequencing, and a recent paper by Kate Tsiplova and colleagues has made a notable contribution to this literature.

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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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