The Qatar Genome Programme (QGP) is an ambitious population-based project aiming to position Qatar among the pioneering countries in the implementation of precision medicine. The project is generating large databases combining whole genome sequencing and other omics data with the comprehensive phenotypic data collected at Qatar Biobank. The wealth of such data empowers researchers to make breakthrough discoveries as well as help policy makers to better plan for future health care directions in Qatar.
QGP was launched by Qatar Foundation with a comprehensive strategy based on seven building blocks. Those include integrating with Qatar Biobank, utilizing local genomics and bioinformatics infrastructures, forging nationwide research partnerships, investing in local human capacity, drafting policies and regulations, and building a national genome data network and integrating genomics into the clinical settings. QGP’s pilot phase was started in September 2015, and its deliverables include the sequencing of over 10,000 whole genomes, launching the QGP research consortium, establishing genomic research funding schemes, conducting benchmarking surveys for general public and health care professionals, drafting national policies and regulations governing genomic research, in addition to initiating graduate programs in genetic counseling and genomic medicine. In the current phase, QGP is ramping-up sequencing and phenotyping efforts up to the mark of around 10 percent of the population, followed by the final and largest phase where large segments of the whole Qatari population will be sequenced. With its small population, centralized health care system and great resources, Qatar is well positioned to be an international leader in the implementation of precision medicine.
Promoting genomic research in Qatar is one of QGP’s main objectives. Towards this goal, and in partnership with the Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF), the main research funding agency in Qatar, a research funding program under the name Path towards Personalized Medicine (PPM) was launched in the year 2016 to encourage local researchers working in the genomics field. Currently, PPM has launched its 3rd cycle. In parallel, the QGP Research Consortium (QGPRC) has been formed from over 90 local researchers along with their international collaborators to mine data coming from the thousands of genomes being sequenced. Realizing the importance of having the governing policies regulating genomic research in place, QGP worked closely with the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) to draft a national policy providing guidelines on conducting genomic research in Qatar. The document constitutes an umbrella for all IRB committees looking into related projects in Qatar.
Building local human capacity is another major goal for QGP. In this context, QGP initiated two graduate programs in collaboration with local universities, a Genetic Counseling MSc at Qatar University (QU) and a Genomic Medicine MSc/PhD program at Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU). Such programs will help prepare a generation of health care professionals capable of moving the country into the age of precision medicine. In parallel, QGP regularly holds conferences, workshops and internships on various topics related to genomics and precision medicine.
QGP’s current and future focus is on initiatives with direct clinical impact. In this direction, QGP is supporting more genomic research targeting national priority diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disorders. Other examples include the development of a comprehensive Qatari genotyping array, the Q-Chip, incorporating locally relevant gene variants identified from whole genome sequence data of thousands of samples. This chip would be used in identifying patients and mutation carriers in national screening programs, whether neonatal or premarital. Furthermore, QGP will be providing genomic reports to thousands of QBB participants on their wellness, diet and pharmacogenomics, followed by reporting on disease risk, which will be coordinated with clinical health care providers.
QGP’s strategy is in alignment with Qatar’s National Vision 2030, which is focusing on providing a better future for its citizens. Providing better future health is at the core of this vision as Qatar seeks to become a regional hub for advanced health care. Working as a platform over which the various national stakeholders come together and interact, QGP is key to achieving such aspired objectives.