Advances in science and technology are bringing an unprecedented level of personalization to healthcare. Personally-tailored medicine is giving doctors new information so they can prescribe treatments that are the best fit for your individual physiology.
One element of personalized medicine is pharmacogenetics, the process of looking at a person’s genetic code so doctors can understand how the patient’s body will respond to medication.
We believe that pharmacogenetics, also commonly referred to as pharmagenomics, represents the future of the pharmaceuticals industry, including drug plans and more. The former is the process, the latter is the business category in which the process is being developed. It promises both improved health for patients, and better use of financial resources for governments and private payers So while this topic is a fascinating cutting edge innovation, we intend to keep an eye on this industry in line with our job of identifying trends. Here’s an overview of what this astonishing breakthrough could mean for each of us as individuals.
DNA on drugs
In a recent article in The Globe and Mail (Carolyn Abraham, March 16, 2018) – DNA on drugs: how genetic tests could make prescription drugs more precise1 – the author noted that:
“Science still has a staggering amount to learn about the workings of human DNA. Yet the specific genes that shape a person’s response to drugs are a remarkable exception – they’re well understood. Long before it was even possible to unravel the helix, researchers had sussed out the inherited biochemistry that explains why people metabolize drugs differently. And now that unravelling DNA is not only possible, but commonplace, pinpointing the genes that impact drug reactions has become one of medicine’s hottest areas.”
Ms. Abraham went on to describe and discuss pharmacogenomics – which she defined as “health care’s dream destination, where drugs can be matched to an individual’s unique genome” and made the following key points:
- Ever since reading DNA has become relatively cheap and speedy, direct-to-consumer tests that assess people’s drug-response genes are taking off.
- Adverse drug reactions kill more than 10,000 Canadians every year, put about 200,000 people in the hospital and cost the health system an estimated $13-billion.
- Experts believe that pharmacogenetic testing, if universally available, could cut that toll by as much as a third.
A company called Dynacare2 – one of several private corporations involved in this breakthrough approach to health care; Dynacare is well established in Montreal, offering several outlets for medical practitioners interested in the technology – states on its website:
“Through our pharmacogenetic testing we offer you an outstanding opportunity to improve prescribing safety and efficacy by studying the genetic factors that influence your patients’ reactions to particular drugs. This opens the door to personalized medicine by helping you prescribe more efficient treatments based on your patients’ genetic profiles – thereby increasing effectiveness while reducing adverse side effects.”
Pharmacogenetics in action
Ms. Abraham cites a specific example of what the application of pharmacogenetic technology could help avoid:
“In 2007, doctors at Sick Kids (the well-known Toronto hospital) reported on the case of a newborn who died of a morphine overdose. Later genetic testing showed that the infant’s mother, who had been prescribed small doses of codeine following a painful childbirth, was an ultra-rapid metabolizer whose body converted the drug into morphine so quickly that it became a lethal dose in the breast milk her baby ingested.”
In another example cited by Ms. Abraham, a dentist administered an antibiotic to a patient to stave off infection after a tooth extraction. The patient broke out in a full-body rash. That same patient also suffered nasty side effects in response to an anti-anxiety medication. A simple swab test administered to her inner cheek to obtain a DNA sample revealed, after analysis, that the patient’s reaction – which her doctors had largely dismissed – was an inevitable consequence of her DNA.
Health Canada and pharmacogenomics
Health Canada3 regulates only those companies that market their pharmacogenomics test kits for medical purposes and it has licensed approximately 20 such companies to date, but you still have to be careful.
Acknowledging that pharmacogenomics is at “the cross-roads of pharmaceuticals and genetics. It is a rapidly growing field in human genetics,” Health Canada asserts that “the aim of pharmacogenomics is to tailor the treatment to the patient.”
Finally, healthcare in this country is adopting the same approach we’ve advocated for so long because tailoring the treatment to the client is precisely what we do here. The diagnostic tools we use may be different, but the ultimate financial health of our clients is a result of personalized financial analysis and personalized wealth management.
Pharmacogenomics is expected to bring many benefits, both to patients and the healthcare industry, as well as increase the number of new drugs, and reduce drug development costs. We’re excited to see how this field will positively benefit society as a whole.