WHO’s Science Council Calls for Equitable Expansion of Genomics

WHO’s Science Council released a report calling for a collective effort to accelerate global access to genomics.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Science Council issued its first report on July 12, 2022, arguing for an acceleration of access to genomics for global health. The report states that it is not ethically or scientifically justifiable for less-resourced countries to gain access to genomics technologies long after well-resourced countries.

Genomics is a field that uses methods from biochemistry, genetics, and molecular biology to utilize DNA and RNA information for the advancement of medicine and public health as well as agriculture, biological research, and other fields. According to a release from the agency, the report specifically calls for expanding access to genomic technologies in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC’s) by addressing shortfalls in financing, laboratory infrastructure, materials, and highly trained personnel. While the Science Council’s report acknowledges that prices are falling, it states they can be further lowered by introducing solutions, such as tiered pricing, sharing of intellectual property rights for low-cost versions, and cross-subsidization, which uses profits in one area to fund another.

“Genomic technologies are driving some of the most ground-breaking research happening today. Yet the benefits of these tools will not be fully realized unless they are deployed worldwide. Only through equity can science reach its full potential impact and improve health for everyone, everywhere,” said Soumya Swaminathan, chief scientist, WHO, in the agency release. “Through convening and coordinating the world’s leading minds, as we do through our Science Council, WHO acts as a global engine for analysis to address the world’s most pressing health challenges.”

The Science Council is composed of nine leading scientists and public health experts from across the world. It was established in April 2021 to advise WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on high-priority issues concerning global health; genomics is the focus of its first study.

"It is already clear that genomics can make enormous contributions to human health, from surveying populations for infectious agents, such as the virus that causes COVID-19, to predicting and treating a wide variety of diseases, such as cancers and developmental disorders. Attention to equity in deploying these technologies is essential for achieving the immense potential benefits to human health," said Harold Varmus, a Nobel Laureate and former director of the United States National Institutes of Health, and current council chair of the WHO Science Council, in the release.

The report stresses that advocacy, implementation, collaboration, and associated ethical, legal, and social issues are critical in spreading genomics. To build on these themes, the report recommends the implementation of a genomics committee, which will focus on helping commercial organizations to develop and implement ways of making their products and technologies affordable in LMICs.

Source: World Health Organization