Mr Chairman, fellow Board members, members of the Human Variome Project Consortium.
Last November, the Human Variome Project held the first ever meeting of the International Confederation of Countries Advisory Council in my home city of Beijing. Representatives from all twelve HVP Country Nodes, as well as representatives from many human genetics societies, met to discuss one thing: how to get information on genetic variants and their effect on patients out of countries and into international databases so that global health can be improved.
It is a difficult problem, and it is a problem that we must solve together in order for the Human Variome Project to be judged a success. Our genome is the common thread that binds humanity. Information about our genome must therefore belong to all of humanity. There is no way to justify the retention of this information within national borders. No one country can discover all there is to know about our genome on their own. No one country has a large enough population to find anywhere near the total amount of variation possible. It is only by working together that we will know enough to make a difference to human health.
But this information does not exist in a vacuum. It must be generated. DNA must be sequenced, variants must be classified and phenotypes described. And it is an unfortunate reality that not every country has the technical or knowledge capacity to be able to do this routinely and effectively. Usually, as I’m sure we can all agree, diversity is a thing to be celebrated. But the huge diversity that is present in the world’s ability to provide adequate genetic healthcare is a problem and needs to be improved.
If we look to the mission of the Human Variome Project, it states that we are working to alleviate needless human suffering for many millions of the world’s people by facilitating the collection, curation, interpretation and sharing of data on genetic variation. This facilitation can come in many forms. Yes we are primarily concerned with producing standards and guidelines for databases. But the Human Variome Project has always recognised the need to assist researchers and healthcare professionals who are working to build capacity in their own countries....