What is Pharmacogenomics and Why Are We Talking About It?

Ever wonder why acetaminophen never works for you, but your spouse touts it as the best for their headaches? Well, the answer is in your genes.

Pharmacogenomics is a new area that looks at the genetic factors determining how a person will respond to a drug. The term comes from"pharmacology" and "genomics" and is, therefore, the crossroads of pharmaceuticals and genetics and also a rapidly growing field in health care today.

Genetics can drive up to 95% of an individual’s variability in responding to a given drug.

Drugs and doses that work well for one person often don’t work for others or may produce unexpected side effects. With depression or anxiety medications, only one-third of those treated respond well to the first drug that they are prescribed. Most of us who have been diagnosed and treated for depression have spent weeks or months cycling through different medications, brands and doses, waiting for something to get better. These can be some of the most prolonged and debilitating months for us, hanging onto hope for improvement in the future. 

Now it’s 2023, and we can do a much better job of targeting therapy to YOU and avoid the long journey of trial and error to find something that works. Pharmacogenetic tests reveal which drugs and doses have the highest likelihood of treatment success in you based on your DNA. Within our code, there can be “genetic variants” or an alteration in a portion of our DNA sequence that can affect the processing of medications in your body.

How do my genes affect the way drugs work in my body?

The human body has incredible processes to break down or activate medications. Several important proteins in the body play significant roles when a medication is taken:

  • Enzymes: break down or active a drug so it can take effect
  • Protein transporters: help a drug go to where it is needed
  • Protein receptors: let the drug into the cell where it will take effect

Certain genetic variants can impact the quantity and effectiveness of these enzymes, transporters and receptors, driving wide variations in medication responses between individuals.

Why does knowing this matter?

Up to two out of three individuals treated for pain or mental health conditions do not respond appropriately to the first treatment they are prescribed.

Knowing which genetic variants you have can help healthcare professionals more accurately identify the most effective and safest treatment options for your BEFORE a prescription is written so that you can feel better sooner.

A recent study of >3,000 patients with mood and anxiety disorders showed that individuals who underwent pharmacogenetic testing had 40% fewer emergency room visits and 58% fewer hospitalizations overall than those who did not.

The most common genetic variants are single nucleotide polymorphisms (changes) or SNPs. Although most SNPs are harmless and mainly determine differences in traits like eye colour, some variants can significantly influence how we respond to medications. 

People fall into 1 or 4 metabolizer types:

  1. Normal metabolizers process a drug as expected and thus will have an expected response at the standard dose.
  2. Intermediate metabolizers process a drug a little on the slow side, causing a build-up at standard doses and potential side effects.
  3. Poor metabolizers break the drug down very slowly, causing a build-up that can result in toxicity even at standard doses.
  4. Ultra-rapid metabolizers process and remove a drug from the body much faster, resulting in little clinical effect at a standard dose.

Now, we understand how specific gene variants impact how we react to different medications giving us insights into which drugs and doses will work best and which should be avoided. The science and the number of prescriptions being assessed are growing daily. The genes you were born with stay with you for life, and so do your test results. When you have a test done, you never have to repeat it; your results are updated regularly to reflect new data or medications as they come on board.

We are now offering pharmacogenomic testing at all our locations. To learn more about pharmacogenomics, contact your Dispensaries Ltd pharmacy..