The Qatar Genome Programme (QGP) aims to position Qatar among the pioneering countries in implementing precision medicine into their healthcare systems. The programme is generating whole genome sequencing and other omics data and integrating them with the comprehensive phenotypic data collected by the Qatar Biobank. The wealth of such datasets empowers researchers to make breakthrough discoveries as well as help policymakers to better plan for the future.
QGP was launched by Qatar Foundation with a comprehensive strategy based on seven building blocks. These include integration with Qatar Biobank, utilizing local genomics and bioinformatics infrastructure, 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 heathcare. QGP’s pilot phase started in September 2015, and its deliverables included the sequencing of over 10,000 whole genomes, launching the QGP research consortium, establishing genomic research funding schemes, conducting benchmarking surveys for the general public and health care professionals, drafting national policies and regulations governing genomic research, in addition to initiating graduate programs in genetic counselling and genomic medicine. In the current phase, QGP is ramping-up its sequencing and phenotyping efforts to cover 10 percent of the population. This will be followed by the final phase where an even larger segments of the population will be sequenced. With its small population, a centralized health care system and ample resources, Qatar is well positioned to be a leading country in the implementation of precision medicine.
Promoting genomic research in Qatar is one of QGP’s main objectives. 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 Precision Medicine (PPM) was launched in the year 2016, PPM has launched 4 cycles so far. In parallel, the QGP Research Consortium (QGPRC) has been formed with over 90 local researchers along with their international collaborators to mine data coming from the thousands of genomes being sequenced.
Building local human capacity is another goal of QGP. In this context, QGP helped with initiating 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). These will help the local workforce to move the country into the age of precision medicine. The programs are expecting their first graduates between 2020 and 2021. In parallel, QGP also works on specially tailored knowledge translation and education programs for the public, especially young students, creating a full lifecycle of learning, and creating content in Arabic. QGP also regularly holds conferences, workshops and internships on various topics related to genomics and precision medicine.
QGP’s focus is on initiatives with direct clinical impact. 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 sequencing data from 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 for 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 focuses 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.