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Diversity of debate: the Discovery Forum comes of age – a blog from Joanne Hackett

The 3rd Discovery Forum took place on 12 July 2018, bringing together hundreds of people from across the industry sector. Chief Commercial Officer Joanne Hackett writes down her thoughts about the day.

There’s great satisfaction in watching something we have helped to create develop a life and personality all of its own – which is why I took huge satisfaction at the Genomics England Discovery Forum on 12 July.

The Forum grew out of our original GENE Consortium, which provided valuable learning about how to align the interests of industry, research and public. But no matter how useful GENE was, we knew it had served its purpose. It was time to build a successor that broke down traditional silos and created a platform that could truly integrate industry into the process of accelerating discovery, speeding translation from the lab to the clinic, and catalysing the UK genomic sector.

And so, in July 2017, the Discovery Forum was born. Initially with a handful of key industry players, it now boasts 69 members – and it’s still growing. Membership encompasses the A to Z of genomics (well, the A to W − from AstraZeneca through to the Wales Gene Park).

The July 2018 Forum brought together over 100 representatives from every aspect of the genomics sector – from patients to researchers to funders to data analysis companies to software specialists to sequencers to biopharma businesses, and everything in between.

I was particularly proud to see participants of the 100,000 Genomes Project here. These are the people whose generosity – often in difficult circumstances − is making genomic discovery possible, and who have made a huge contribution to the new NHS Genomic Medicine Service which rolls out later this year. Their experience, insight and commitment are a keystone – without them, the Discovery Forum simply couldn’t work.

And everyone comes to engage – italics used for emphasis – because the Discovery Forum isn’t some pointless talking shop. It is a real platform for debate, where attendees openly discuss challenges and solutions. There is no showboating, axe-grinding or agenda setting. It’s where the genomics business gets down to learn about the business of genomics.

Just looking at the breadth of topics we covered in a single day shows us its value: the targeted collection of multiomics (-omics); differing attitudes to hypothesis generation; considering samples as data; the costs of storing massive amounts of data; potential futures for Genomics England; and much more besides.

It is this diversity of debate that makes the Discovery Forum a truly unique resource. Where else… what other forum… brings together so many people from so many different fields on a regular basis? Where relationships, understanding – and ultimately mutual trust in motivations – are built up over time?

Just one year ago I didn’t dare to dream that the Discovery Forum would come so far so fast – and certainly not that it would have come of age on its first birthday. It really is developing a life and personality all of its own − and I’m genuinely intrigued to see where it takes us.

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