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Vale, Richard Cotton

It is with profound sadness that I advise that Professor Richard Cotton passed away peacefully in his sleep on Sunday morning.

We here at the International Coordinating Office, as I'm sure are you, are deeply saddened and shocked by this tragic news.

Dick provided us with leadership that inspired us all to embrace his global vision. He leaves behind a truly remarkable legacy. His vision in the field of the collection and sharing of human genetic variants is legendary. He was one of the first to realize that DNA sequencing would change the world and that genetic diagnostics would be based on sharing information on genes, variants and phenotypes. Without sharing this data, diagnosis would not be possible and optimal care to the patients and their family's non-existent.

He spent the last 30 years of his life persuading people to share his vision and what they know about genes, variants and phenotypes. He started the journal Human Mutation, initiated the alternating bi-annual International Mutation Detection Workshops and HUGO Mutation Detection Courses, the HUGO Mutation Database initiative, stood at the basis of the HGVS recommendations to describe DNA variants and organizations like the Human Genome Variation Society (HGVS) and since 2006, the Human Variome Project (HVP). Irrespective of whether all these efforts were as successful as he might have wished, Dick Cotton was the enthusiastic driver that mobilized many volunteers, to spread the word, do some work and make a difference.

From the start he realized the importance of developing a common, world-wide accepted language to describe DNA variants. He gave a kick-start to suggested standards like this by offering the option to publish them in the journal Human Mutation. When standards matured he dared to take the risk by demanding their use before accepting papers for publication in Human Mutation.

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Media Release
For Immediate Release

Kuala Lumpur, 17 March 2015—Patients with one of a number of devastating genetic blood disorders, such as thalassemia and sickle cell anaemia, will benefit significantly in the coming years from a new international project announced today at the annual Human Genome Organisation meeting in Kuala Lumpur. The Global Globin 2020 Challenge (GG2020), an initiative of the Human Variome Project—an international scientific NGO working with UNESCO and WHO to build medical genetics and genomics capacity, particularly in low- and middle-income countries—will apply recent developments in human genomics involving the systematic collection and sharing of genetic variation data to fighting these blood disorders, referred to technically as haemolytic anaemias.

In particular, the Challenge will build an evidence base for the better management of delivery of local treatment, care and eventually cure for these diseases by ensuring that there is sufficient local capacity to deliver services. It is believed that the Challenge will put in place the skills and expertise in genomic medicine needed to effectively tackle other health issues in these countries as well.
The Challenge is being led by two leading geneticists, Professor Zilfalil bin Alwi from Malaysia and Professor Raj Ramesar from South Africa. Both are members of the Human Variome Project Board and can see the benefits this project will bring to their patients and others in South East Asia, Africa and the rest of the world.

Human Variome Project International (HVPI) Chairman, Chris Arnold, who chaired the HUGO session introducing the project, thanked the GG2020 challenge co–chairs and fellow HVPI directors, Professor Zilfalil Bin Alwi, from Universitie Sains Malaysia and Professor Raj Ramesar from the University of Cape Town South Africa for their leadership and willingness to coordinate this major global initiative. Mr Arnold stated “The haemolytic anaemias collectively, are cause for significant morbidity and mortality, especially in parts of the world where health systems are often less well developed. Children are often most severely affected. Despite much being known for a long time about the genetics and biology of the haemolytic anaemias and this knowledge being used successfully in some countries to systematically reduce burden of disease, low- and middle-income countries have remained practically untouched by this knowledge and innovations.”

In launching the Challenge, Professor bin Alwi said, “The Malaysian Node of Human Variome Project is honoured to be given the privilege to co-chair this Global Globin Initiative. Hemoglobinopathy, in particular Thalassaemia, is a common disease in Malaysia where about 5% of the population are carriers of the disease".

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In August, the National Health and Medical Research Council in Australia called for comment on a draft of their "Draft Principles for the translation of ‘omics’-based tests from discovery to health care". The Human Variome Project International Scientific Committee submitted the following response.

Dear Professor Ward,

On behalf of the Human Variome Project International Scientific Advisory Committee, we congratulate you on the work of the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Human Genetics Advisory Committee and the NHMRC Secretariat in producing the Principles for the translation of ‘omics’-based tests from discovery to health care and we welcome the opportunity to respond as part of the document’s public consultation. These are complex issues that many health systems and research funding bodies around the world are grappling with. We are pleased to have been invited by the NHMRC Secretariat to share the expertise of our members and provide an international perspective to these principles.

As you are well aware, the Human Variome Project is an international non-governmental organisation that is working to ensure that all information on genetic variation and its effect on human health can be collected, curated, interpreted and shared freely and openly.

The Human Variome Project provides a central coordinating function for national and international efforts to integrate the collection, curation, interpretation and sharing of information on variation in the human genome into routine clinical practice and research. We are an active and growing Consortium of over 1,100 individual researchers, healthcare professionals and policy makers and organisations from 81 countries that collaborate to develop and maintain the necessary standards, systems and infrastructure to support global scale genomic knowledge sharing. The Project itself is not directly involved in the development and operation of physical data storage and sharing infrastructure; that is the responsibility of international disease groups, national consortiums/health systems and individual members. Rather, the Project exists to assist these groups by:

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In August, the Global Alliance for Genomics and Health called for comment on their draft constitution. As a founding member of the Global Alliance, the Human Variome Project issued the following response.

Dear Professor Altshuler,

Human Variome Project International Limited (HVPI) welcomes the development of a draft Global Alliance for Genomics and Health (GA4GH) constitution for comment by participating organisations. Constitutions are important documents that lay the foundation for almost every part of an organisation’s existence and it bodes well that GA4GH has taken the laudable step of engaging in genuine consultation with its member organisations on this document. To further promote dialogue and discussion, we might suggest that the feedback that is received on this document be placed on a section of the GA4GH website, either publicly accessible or restricted to GA4GH member organisations.

We believe that the document, as it currently stands, is a good first step towards defining a constitution for the GA4GH. We are pleased to see that important concepts and principles such as collaboration, ethics, responsible data sharing, transparency and openness feature heavily in the document. We look forward to participating in the process of articulating the detail necessary to implement these concepts.

We recognise that there are areas that will require further consideration over time, some of which we will refer to in this response.

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Media Release
For Immediate Release

Paris, France, 21 May—The diverse range of human genomics research projects being undertaken by African institutions and researchers involved in the Human Hereditary and Health in Africa (H3Africa) Consortium was highlighted yesterday during the 5th Biennial Meeting of the Human Variome Project Consortium. The lead researchers from seven African nations involved in the H3Africa Consortium presented their ongoing work at a special session of the Human Variome Project meeting that was opened by Mdme Robertine Raonimahary, Director of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO) Africa Department Office for Cooperation and partnerships between Member States.

“It is no secret that Africa’s history has been marked by a development narrative in which the benefits from science, technology and innovation have been enjoyed by few,” said Raonimahary. “Today it is changing and Africa’s leaders view science, technology and innovation as critical to human development and global competitiveness and increasingly are investing more substantially in research, quality science education and upgrade of research and teaching infrastructure. Over the last few years the biggest revolution is occurring in genomic research. Nowadays Africans have the highest levels of genetic diversity within and among populations and the study of this diversity can contribute immensely to this area of science. First of all to reconstruct human demographic and evolutionary history, to study the African Diaspora and African ancestry globally, to study the genetic basis of susceptibility to communicable and non-communicable diseases and finally to understand differences in drug response.”

The projects being presented ran the gamut of human genomics research from identifying the genetic variants involved in the development of diseases primarily affecting individuals of African descent to investigating the underlying genomic components of susceptibility to infectious diseases such as trypanosomiasis. Researchers also reported on the development of a continent spanning bioinformatics capability and a network of state-of-the-art biorepositories.

Professor Raj Ramesar from the University of Cape Town, who chaired the session and sits on the H3Africa Steering Committee, said, “Twenty-seven African nations are currently involved in the H3Africa Consortium covering twenty research project n diseases of local relevance with funding in the order of US$74 million provided by the US National Institutes of Health and the UK Wellcome Trust. The session during the Human Variome Project meeting was directed at bringing the progress and results of these important projects to the attention of African governments and highlighting the current research impetus in their countries towards translating the outcomes of these projects for local utility.”

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19 November, 2013

Office of Science Policy
National Institutes of Health
6705 Rockledge Drive, Suite 750
Bethesda, MD 20892
GDS@mail.nih.gov.au

Submission regarding the Draft NIH Genomic Data Sharing Policy

1. Background to Submission

The Human Variome Project is an international consortium of scientists and healthcare professionals who are working towards a significant reduction in the burden of genetic disease on the world’s populations. The aim of the Human Variome Project is to ensure that all information on genetic variation can be collected, curated, interpreted and shared freely and openly. This will lead to speedier, better and cheaper diagnosis and treatment of genetic disorders, and better insight into the causes, severity and effect of common disease. The Human Variome Project achieves its aims by establishing and maintaining the necessary standards, systems and infrastructure, by providing education and training to scientists, clinicians, genetic counsellors, other healthcare professionals and the general public and by assisting nations build their capacity in medical genetics and genomics. The Human Variome Project acts as an umbrella organisation and works to encourage communication and collaboration around its central vision.

The importance of the Human Variome Project was recognised in 2011 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation in the Project’s admittance to Consultative Partner status.

Media Release
For Immediate Release

Melbourne, 10 October - Efforts to fully document the full scale of human genetic variation and its role in illness and disease were boosted last week with the launch of the Human Variome Project South East Asian Node.

The Human Variome Project is an international initiative, coordinated from Melbourne, to ensure that discoveries about the human genome and how it affects our health are routinely shared in a free and open manner.. The Human Variome Project South East Asian Node will assist the national efforts of Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, Singapore and Thailand to share information on genetic variations in South East Asian populations between member nations and the rest of the world.

"This is a tremendous step forward for these countries," said Professor Richard Cotton from the University of Melbourne and Scientific Director of the Human Variome Project, who was present at the launch ceremony in Melaka, Malaysia on the third of October. "These countries obviously recognise that genetic and genomic healthcare is an important part of a well developed health system and they are serious about providing these services to their citizens."

Once thought to only contribute in a major way to a small subset of diseases that primarily affect children, genetics is now seen as being important to almost all areas of human health.

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Media Release
For Immediate Release

Melbourne, 23 August — The Human Variome Project International Coordinating Office are pleased to announce that Professor Sir John Burn, Deputy Chair of the Project’s International Scientific Advisory Committee will be delivering the 2013 R Douglas Wright Lecture at the University of Melbourne on Tuesday, 3 rd September, 2013.

Professor Sir Burn is currently the lead clinician for the UK National Health Service (North East), and genetics lead for the UK National Institute of Health Research. He was previously a director of the Institute of Genetic Medicine at The University of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne (2005-2010), and president of the European Society of Human Genetics (2007).

Professor Burn is widely regarded in the field of monogenic disorders particularly in establishing the genetic basis of a neurodegenerative disorder called neuroferritinopathy, and the major form of hereditary colorectal cancer called the Lynch syndrome. He led the study that demonstrated the use of aspirin in reducing the risk of colorectal and other cancers in persons with Lynch syndrome, and leads an international consortium investigating chemoprevention in persons with hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer.

He is currently exploring cell-based vaccines for colorectal cancer, and is involved in a startup company which aims to develop the use of nanowires, nanotubes and nanoribbons in genotyping and gene sequencing.

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The Human Variome Project International Coordinating Office are pleased to announce that Professor Sir John Burn, Deputy Chair of the Project’s International Scientific Advisory Committee will be delivering the 2013 R Douglas Wright Lecture at the University of Melbourne on Tuesday, 3rd September, 2013.

Genetic tests for diagnostic, predictive and screening purposes are a routine part of clinical care in most modern healthcare systems, and as we discover more about the genetic determinants of our health, we can expect genetic testing to become more prevalent. At the same time, new technological advancements, lower costs and increased training and education will see genetic testing spread rapidly into routine clinical practice in countries with, to date, less advanced healthcare systems.

Despite major advances that have allowed the technical portion of genetic testing to become routine, the interpretation of clinical sequencing results remains a major challenge given the enormous amount of rare and unique genetic variation in the human population. Enabling patients to optimally benefit from genetic testing will require major advances in our understanding of genetic variation and its impact on health and disease. Open data sharing of patient genotypes and phenotypes is necessary to achieve these advances.

The Human Variome Project believes that all laboratories that undertake genetic testing for diagnostic, prognostic or screening purposes must share the molecular and phenotypic data generated or collected in the course of testing in an appropriate public database. Not sharing this data prevents comparative assessments of variant interpretations, reduces consensus building, decreases the quality of test interpretations, and allows for potential harm to patients. To this end, the Human Variome Project fully supports the recent American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics Position Statement on Public Disclosure of Clinically Relevant Genome Variants (http://short.variome.org/acmg-crgv-statement).

Further, the Human Variome Project calls on national governments, regulatory bodies and professional societies to facilitate the free and open sharing of this information by reducing legislative and procedural barriers. While the Human Variome Project recognises the sensitive nature of genetic information and accompanying clinical data, and is aware of the ethical, legal and social issues inherent in its collection, storage and use, the Project also recognises that this same information is fundamental to the practice of genetic and genomic medicine. A balance must be struck between protecting individual privacy and establishing a body of evidence capable of providing life-saving medical intervention to the population at large.