Genomics England Appoints AI Specialist Chris Wigley as CEO

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Chris Wigley, a former McKinsey executive known for applying machine-learning and artificial-intelligence technology to transform performance, has been appointed Chief Executive Officer for Genomics England. His appointment begins October 1. Genomics England was set up to deliver the UK’s 100,000 Genomes Project. The project has since been greatly expanded.

“I am tremendously excited to be joining Genomics England at this pivotal time. The fantastic work on the original 100,000 Genomes Project mission (which many thought was impossible just a few short years ago) shows the talent and grit in this team,” said Wigley.

“Chris joins us at a significant time for Genomics England as it takes the next steps in using the data entrusted to us by participants to transform healthcare,” said Jonathan Symonds CBE, Chair of Genomics England.

Wigley was a Partner at McKinsey from 2009 to 2015, served as the co-leader of digital strategy there, and then went on to grow QuantumBlack, a McKinsey company, as Chief Operating Officer. Before McKinsey, he worked with the British Foreign Office as a diplomat and on digital transformation at the BBC.

QuantumBlack was created to bring machine learning to Formula 1 motor racing, and was eventually acquired by McKinsey. It is now McKinsey’s global center of excellence for machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI). Wigley was focused on improving QuantumBlack’s international growth, developing its cutting-edge technology, and helping clients to unlock performance potential.

Machine learning and AI could be critical in the analysis of the vast amounts of data involved in genomics. “We’re already leading the world in this exciting field and I’m delighted Chris will be helping us achieve our Long Term Plan ambition of bringing the benefits of personalized medicine to every patient, clinician and carer. Chris is a truly transformational leader and I have every confidence he will help the country realize our ambitious, world leading vision for Genomics England,” said Matt Hancock, UK Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.

Genomics England aims to sequence 100,000 whole genomes from National Health Service (NHS) patients with rare diseases, and their families, as well as patients with common cancers. The project is mainly funded by the National Institute for Health Research and NHS England. The Wellcome Trust, Cancer Research UK ,and the Medical Research Council have also funded research and infrastructure in the program.

In October 2018, Hancock announced the expansion of the 100,000 Genomes Project including:

  • Expansion of the 100,000 Genomes Project to see 1 million whole genomes sequenced by the NHS and UK Biobank in five years.
  • That from 2019, the NHS will offer whole genome analysis for all seriously ill children with a suspected genetic disorder, including those with cancer. The NHS will also offer the same for all adults suffering from certain rare diseases or hard to treat cancers.
  • The aspiration to sequence 5 million genomes in the UK, within an unprecedented five-year period.

“Today, Genomics England’s partnership with the NHS is leading the world in bringing cutting-edge genomics research and analytics into daily medical care to benefit people across the UK and beyond. I can’t wait to join the team and help shape the next chapter in this extraordinary journey to bring digital technologies and products to clinicians and researchers and – most importantly – achieve transformative outcomes for patients,” said Wigley.

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