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Genetics to aid B.C. pharmacists in personalized medicine decisions

A swab of saliva may go a long way in revolutionizing personalized medicine through a new research project launching in pharmacies across B.C. Tuesday.

Genome BC and the BC Pharmacy Association have partnered up to fund the $400,000 “Genomics for Precision Drug Therapy in the Community Pharmacy” project, which will also be led by a team at the University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences.

The project is the first of its kind in North America and aims to let pharmacists acquire and assess a patient’s genetic information before determining drug therapy decisions.

“This project is focusing on just a handful of variants that influence the way in which you metabolize one particular drug,” said Dr. Corey Nislow, head of the UBC research team. “If we incorporate genetic information at the beginning, you can start closer to a dose that will be what the final dose is. You eliminate a lot of trial and error.”

In its first phase, which is expected to last a year and a half, about 20 pharmacies in B.C. will collect a swab of saliva from a voluntary patient’s mouth if they have been prescribed warfarin, a blood thinner. Each patient’s genetic sample will be kept anonymous.

“Phase 1 is all about information gathering,” Nislow noted. “We’re not making any prescription changes.”

But by utilizing next-generation sequencing for a patient’s genome collected through saliva, the data can help assess the appropriateness of a certain medication, the dose and at what intervals.

This same sequencing technology is what’s been used in HIV and cancer testing, according to Dr. Brad Popovich, Genome BC’s chief scientific officer.

“It’s changed (HIV) from being a fatal disease to a chronic disease. It’s decreased mortality rate by more than 90 per cent,” he said. “You get the glimpse of the future when you look at the HIV program now, you look at what we’re doing for anticoagulation (blood thinning) therapies.

“You really start to see the future of health care emerging now in B.C. around personalized medicine.”

Genome B.C. has been involved with personalized medicine for a number of years, especially since the 1990s in working with HIV-positive patients.

“It’s trying to get the right drug to the right patient at the right time at the right dose,” he added. “So how do you do that?”

In this research project, it’ll start with pharmacists, according to David Pavan, president of the BC Pharmacy Association.

“This is the tip of the iceberg for patient specific drug therapy,” he said.

If all goes well, the next phase will launch through a broader base of pharmacies in B.C. and offer patients the opportunity to provide their genetic information to guide future therapeutic dosing decisions.

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