DNA testing at BC community pharmacies comes one step closer

March 22, 2017 In The News

Imagine if before taking a medication, you could walk into your local pharmacy and take a test that could accurately predict whether the medication would work for you and the dosage best suited to you—all based on your DNA.

This is the genesis behind a BC-based research project “Genomics for Precision Drug Therapy in the Community Pharmacy”, the first of its kind in North America. The project, now entering its second phase, is co-funded by Genome BC and the BC Pharmacy Association (BCPhA), with research led by a team at the University of British Columbia’s Sequencing and Bioinformatics Consortium (SBC).

Testing a person’s genome can predict how they will respond to certain medications—if the medications are effective and if dosages need changing. This type of testing, called pharmacogenomic (PGx) testing, has historically been done mostly in research settings and for limited types of medications. In this research phase, the project will analyze the DNA of patients taking mental health medications to optimize the type of medication and dosage.

The first phase of the project focused on whether pharmacists, no matter if they were in urban or rural communities, could be the conduit to providing PGx testing. That phase determined pharmacists could successfully play this role.

In the second phase, which begins this spring, community pharmacists in a number of communities across BC will focus on recruiting patients who are currently taking mental health medications. Testing will also be applied for patients on other commonly prescribed medications, such as cardiovascular and pain medications. Once a patient’s DNA has been sequenced, the pharmacist will provide a consultation and report back to the patient, and inform their health-care provider as required to help guide drug therapy decisions.

“This is about moving the work out of the lab and giving patients actionable results that can change their lives,” says lead researcher Dr. Corey Nislow, director at UBC’s SBC.

In the first phase of the project, 29 community pharmacists in locations across British Columbia—from greater Vancouver to small communities like Chetwynd—participated and recruited 200 patients. The project focused on patient education, developing and implementing standard operating procedures, and collecting samples from patients in their communities.

“Bringing this type of testing to patients to help them know if a medication works is exactly what pharmacists are trained to do,” says Geraldine Vance, CEO of the BCPhA. “Each day community pharmacists are assessing whether medications work for patients. This is just another tool in the toolbox.”

Genome BC’s User Partnership Program is about improving translation of research innovations into products, services, policy, and practices, says Dr. Catalina Lopez-Correa, Genome BC’s Chief Scientific Officer and Vice President, Sector Development.

“This initiative is a perfect example of collaboration between end users and translational researchers working toward bringing those innovations into communities where people will benefit,” she says.