The pilot phase of the Qatar Genome Programme, which debuted in September 2015, is a first stage during which all national stakeholders can start coordinating efforts and embark on a well-planned national strategy to apply Precision Medicine in Qatar.

The QGP, in its pilot phase, differentiates itself from other disease-based research projects in the region in being a population-based initiative using DNA samples collected by Qatar Biobank from deeply-phenotyped apparently-healthy individuals.

One of the main goals of the pilot phase is to establish the Qatari Reference Genome Map by sequencing a representative number of whole genomes. Establishing this reference map will help identify specific gene variants distinctive of the local population, especially those related to various inherited genetic diseases. Such map will also help policy makers to start incorporating genomic data into the health care system to better diagnose, treat and even prevent many diseases.

In this context, QGP formed a Publication Steering Working Group and a QGP Consortium to coordinate research collaborations with local researchers working on analysing the data coming from the thousands of genomes that are sequenced and to publish their results in high impact journals. QGP is also working on promoting genomic research in Qatar in a partnership with the main local research funding agency, the Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF), to support experts and researchers working in the field.

Another goal of the pilot phase is to collaborate with the Ministry of Public Health on the development of ethical and legal policies that will provide guidelines governing genomic research in Qatar.

On the human capacity side, QGP embarked on organising a series of related internship programmes, workshops and conferences, as well as initiating new graduate programmes in Genomic Medicine and Genetic Counseling in collaboration with local universities.

QGP also conducted surveys to gauge public as well as professional awareness and attitudes regarding genomic medicine to explore the gaps to be filled by our programme in the vision to implement precision medicine practices in Qatar.