8 April 2022

Observatory appoints advisor to explore ethnic and racial inequalities relating to genomics and precision medicine

Academic general practitioner, Dr Veline L’Esperance, has been appointed as a Clinical Advisor to the Observatory focussing on ethnic and racial inequalities relating to genomics and precision medicine.

As part of this appointment, Dr L’Esperance will oversee a new review which addresses genetic testing and diagnosis of familial hypercholesterolemia in patients from Black, Asian and ethnic minority communities.

The role also includes overseeing the commission of a rapid evidence review of ethnic inequalities in precision medicine – with recommendations for policy and advising on a project that examines racial bias in genetic testing to prevent severe bone marrow depression from anti-cancer drugs.

Familial hypercholesterolemia is an inherited condition that is passed down through families and is caused by one or more faulty genes, resulting in exceptionally high levels of cholesterol in their blood.

Despite some advances in clinical practice and research, a substantial gap remains in the understanding of familial hypercholesterolemia among Black, Asian and minority ethnic individuals.  Across the UK, the condition can affect up to one in 250 people but, more widely, there could be up to 220,000 affected individuals in Britain. Without treatment, it can cause early heart attacks along with a higher risk of heart disease.

In 2019, the NHS Long Term Plan set a target of finding 25% of predicted patients in England over the next five years. Dr L’Esperance says “With advances in precision medicine, there is a fundamental risk that these strides could result in disadvantaging those communities who already experience ethnic health inequalities.  This work will ensure that future research is conducted in diverse populations with a range of ethnically diverse backgrounds; and the resulting outputs from research in this area are available for all.”

Fresh insights in the final commission are expected to outline limitations to ensure clinical, genetic and population-level studies do not continue to pose risks which could hamper awareness of high cholesterol within diverse communities.

Dr L’Esperance holds a Master’s in Public Health and a Master’s in Healthcare policy and Management and is currently an NIHR Research Fellow at Kings College London. She is also a practicing GP in South London and a member of the NICE Technology Appraisals Committee. Dr L’Esperance has held previous national roles including Keogh Mortality Reviews, Specialist Advisor to Care Quality Commission and National Medical Director Clinical Fellow.

Director of the NHS Race and Health Observatory, Dr Habib Naqvi, said:

“Urgent insight is imperative to ensure those at risk of developing this potential life changing condition have the tools and information to help lower their raised cholesterol levels. We look forward to working with Dr L’Esperance as we begin vital work of evidencing and providing practical solutions – enabling the NHS to systematically address the inequalities that exist in this area.”

More information can be found via the Invitation to Tender link.