The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has positioned genomic healthcare prominently in the Vision 2030 initiative, with a key focus on personalized healthcare. Saudi Arabia is actively sequencing its population’s genomes and tailoring treatments based on genetic profiles to enable early detection of genetic diseases.
In this interview, Abdulelah Alissa, Business Development Manager for West Asia & Africa in Saphetor, shares his thoughts about how Saudi Arabia’s population’s genetic diversity can help it become a global leader in genomics, through various initiatives such as the Saudi Human Genome Program.
What is the targeted impact of genomic medicine as part of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Vision for 2030?
AA: Genomic medicine is a crucial component of Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030, and its targeted impact includes its primary purpose to lead an era of personalized healthcare. Genomic medicine seeks to create medical treatments uniquely tailored to everyone’s genetic profile, which promises a more efficient healthcare system. This innovative approach extends to preventative medicine, allowing for early intervention and reducing the burden of genetic diseases by identifying those at higher risk.
Genomics catalyzes research and innovation in the Kingdom in healthcare and industries such as agriculture, biotechnology and drug development These initiatives will begin a chain reaction of advancements that will alter the scientific landscape of Saudi Arabia. Strategic investments in genomics and its applications cultivate new growth opportunities in healthcare and biotechnology, boosting economic diversification. Saudi Arabia aspires to become a global leader in genomics and precision medicine, thereby enhancing the country's international standing in healthcare and research and demonstrating genomic medicine's significant impact on Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 program.
What has shaped Saudi Arabia's approach to genomic healthcare?
AA: Saudi Arabia's aspiration to be a leader in genomics and precision medicine relies on dynamic programs and initiatives. The Saudi Human Genome Program (SHGP), led by King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST), aims to sequence the Saudi population's genomes, and investigate associations between genetic variations and health conditions to develop personalized interventions. In addition to SHGP, biobanks for preserving genetic samples and amassing health data are essential for genomics.
Significant investments in the Center of Genomics Medicine at King Faisal Hospital and Research Center in Medicine and Translational Genomics have been made, including state-of-the-art laboratories and computing facilities for genomics, enhancing the Kingdom's standing in this scientific field.
Multiple factors contribute to the project's viability. Saudi Arabia's enormous financial resources allow for substantial investments in research and infrastructure, ensuring a world-class genomics ecosystem. Moreover, the genetic diversity of the Saudi population enables extensive research into genetic variations and disease susceptibility, thereby generating new opportunities for innovative research and applications in genomics and precision medicine.
There is a clear ambition to position the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as a renowned global leader in genomics. What programs and initiatives are going to establish that, and what makes the opportunity so viable in your opinion?
AA: Saudi Arabia's aspiration to be a leader in genomics and precision medicine relies on dynamic programs and initiatives. The SHGP primary objective is to sequence the Saudi population's genomes and investigate genetic variations' associations with health conditions to develop personalized interventions. In addition to SHGP, biobanks for preserving genetic samples and amassing health data are essential for genomics. These biobanks provide datasets for studying the genetic underpinnings of diseases and devising personalized treatments. Increasing public awareness and enhancing education are essential for elucidating the benefits of genomics and precision medicine, fostering public trust and participation in research, and fostering public engagement.
Significant investments have been made in research and infrastructure development, including state-of-the-art laboratories and facilities for genomics, enhancing Saudi Arabia's standing in this scientific field. Multiple factors contribute to the possibility's viability. Saudi Arabia's enormous financial resources allow for substantial investments in genomics research and infrastructure, ensuring a world-class genomics ecosystem. Moreover, the genetic diversity of the Saudi population enables extensive research on genetic variations and disease susceptibility, thereby generating new opportunities for innovative research and applications in genomics and precision medicine.
Are there technologies that you feel might have a significant impact on genomic healthcare in the near future?
AA: Several breakthrough technologies are now on the horizon that will revolutionize genetic healthcare. These advancements should significantly enhance our disease detection, treatment, and prevention abilities, making it possible to tailor medical care to each patient's needs.
Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are essential for fully realizing the potential of genetic data. By detecting trends and predicting illness risks, they allow for highly individualized approaches to medical care. Single-molecule sequencing, demonstrated by nanopore sequencing, is changing the face of DNA and RNA analysis. It will enable quicker and more thorough genetic testing, speeding up clinical diagnostics.
Disease susceptibility and health trends can be determined through population-scale initiatives, thanks to genomics research for public health, which will help with illness prevention and better health policy decisions. Genomic healthcare is becoming increasingly individualized, accurate, and accessible as a result of the widespread adoption of this quickly developing technology in clinical practices and healthcare systems.
The above changes will hopefully result in better patient outcomes and even lower healthcare costs. These ground-breaking innovations are undeniably altering the future of healthcare.
What do you think could be the impact of the work happening in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on global health?
AA: The advancement of precision medicine is facilitated by efforts like the Saudi Human Genome Program, which aims to better understand the genetic make-up of the Saudi population. This data has far-reaching significance since it sheds light on a wide range of genetic profiles and their implications for precision medicine. Saudi Arabia's genomics research on rare diseases can help advance our knowledge of these illnesses around the world. Improved diagnostic and therapy options for individuals everywhere may result from the identification of genetic variables contributing to rare diseases.
Genomic research and technical progress can lead to the creation of game-changing diagnostic tools, medicines, and biotechnology products. In addition, Saudi Arabia's genetic variety is a strength for studying human variation. It provides new insight into the genetic diversity present in Middle Eastern and North African populations at large, elevating the importance of such research. By increasing precision medicine, rare illness research, innovation, and our understanding of different genetic data, Saudi Arabia's work is bound to have a tremendous effect on world health.
What are the most important enabling technologies today?
AA: With the vast advancement we see from different sequence providers and the significant decrease in the cost of sequencing, the burden of implementing genomics in clinical or research comes from the data analysis and interpretation. That’s why we at Saphetor believe that VarSome can be the trusted solution to overcome these challenges.
Our mission; “To enable anyone to find, share, and use the most comprehensive human genome data - to collaborate to improve health and lives around the world.”
VarSome was built with shared knowledge of more than 500 000 healthcare professionals; from over 150 countries and knowledge of more than 140 datasets; aggregated, cross referenced, and constantly updated, integrated into our germline and somatic classifiers.
We don’t stop here as we are considered one of the unique companies in the world that provide a complete solution for NGS data analysis, as well as on-premises installation, in order to help our customers with strict regulations regarding genetic data leaving their country, which can be a challenge for countries like the Middle East.
Abdulelah Alissa is the Business Development Manager at Saphetor for West Asia and Africa. Abdulelah has vast experience in genomics in the region, as he has worked with leading corporations such as Illumina, Thermo Fisher and Fulgent Genetics. He holds a Master's degree in medical molecular biology with genetics – issued by Bangor University in the UK.
In addition to his corporate experience, he has worked on multiple national projects in the region, such as the Saudi Human Genome Project and the National Reference for Lung Cancer in Saudi Arabia.
About VarSome Clinical
VarSome Clinical is a CE-IVD-certified and HIPAA-compliant platform allowing fast and accurate variant discovery, annotation, and interpretation of NGS data for whole genomes, exomes, and gene panels, which helps clinicians reach faster and more accurate diagnoses and treatment decisions for genetic conditions. VarSome can also be integrated into existing in-house pipelines via VarSome API through cloud-based or on-premises installations.
If you'd like to learn more about the on-premises installation of VarSome Clinical, reach out to us at sales@VarSome.com.