Helix, MUSC to Launch Population Health Genomics Initiative in South Carolina

Image of researchers in a lab adding samples to a Helix sequencing machine.
Earlier this year Helix received FDA authorization for its Helix Laboratory Platform, the first time the FDA has authorized a sequencing platform.

The Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) and genomics company Helix will collaborate to set up and run a new population genomics program in the South Carolina area called In Our DNA SC with a view to driving research and implementation of precision medicine.

The program will enroll 100,000 volunteers in the state who will undergo exome testing using Helix’s platform and applying its ‘sequence once, query often’ methodology, which involves storing data from initial testing in case further tests are needed in the future.

The aim of the program is to provide useful health information to the patients and their clinicians from the start, alongside contributing to medical research. To begin with the program will assess individual risk for certain types of cancer and cardiovascular disease to allow a precision health plan to be developed for each participant and their families.

The initiative will also allow new research into the genetic causes behind certain diseases and response to treatments that will help improve precision health in the future.

The Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) is the only comprehensive academic health sciences center in the state, making it well placed to run this program. Helix’s exome sequencing program is the only one to be approved by the FDA to date and the company has a long history of working in the genomic sequencing and population genomics field for the purposes of disease screening and precision health.

“Precision medicine is an emerging field that is going to transform the future delivery of health care,” said David Cole, MUSC president in a press statement. “We are excited to have the opportunity to partner with Helix to deploy this first-of-its-kind population genomic program for our patients. This collaboration will help drive preventive, precision health care for South Carolinians.”

Enrolment in the program is due to begin in the fall. To begin with, recruitment will take place at MUSC clinics and centers, but will later expand throughout the community and state via MUSC partner organizations and clinical affiliates.

“Large-scale population genomics initiatives like this have the potential to significantly improve a health system’s ability to deliver population and precision health insights to patients,” said James Lu, CEO and co-founder of Helix.

“In similar programs, as many as 1 in 75 participants have been found to be at risk for a serious health issue, of which 90% would not have been discovered through traditional practice. By expanding access and making genomic data actionable for health care providers, we will be able to work in tandem with MUSC… to identify risk earlier and prevent or mitigate serious diseases for its community and beyond.”

Programs such as In Our DNA SC are becoming more common as the value of precision medicine and the impact of genetics on many aspects of disease and health becomes clearer. For example, North Shore University and health intelligence company Sema4 set up a similar partnership in the Chicago area earlier this year.

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