11 Genomics Medicine Centres are being set up in English hospitals to gather DNA samples to help devise targeted treatments for a wide range of diseases.
It is focusing on cancer and rare genetic diseases.
The aim is to sequence 100,000 genomes within three years in order to develop new tests and drugs.
Patients will have to agree to have their genetic code and medical records – stripped of anything that could identify them – made available to drugs companies and researchers.
Up to 25,000 cancer patients will have the genetic code of their healthy tissue compared to the genetic code of their tumor.
A giant game of spot-the-difference will then take place to identify the precise mutations in DNA that are causing a patient’s tumor.
Previous genetics research has shown how different cancers can be – for example that breast cancer is not one disease but at least 10 – each with a different cause and life expectancy and each needing a different treatment.
And the development of targeted drugs such as Herceptin – given only if a patient’s breast tumour has a certain mutation – has been possible because of genetics research.
Meanwhile, 15,000 patients with rare diseases will have their genome compared with those of their parents and grandparents.