Need prescription drugs? Getting a genetic screening first may save you time and money

NORWICH, United Kingdom — A new study out of the United Kingdom is suggesting that doctors perform genetic testing on all patients before prescribing medications. The study authors, from the University of East Anglia, say such preemptive measures would help millions receive the ideal medication for them in a more timely manner.

It’s rare that a single medication will work for everyone who takes it. No two people are the same and what works for most patients may prove ineffective or even harmful for others. On that note, researchers analyzed 2019 NHS U.K. dispensing data to determine how many people given a new medication each year could benefit from some genetic screening beforehand.

More warnings for prescription drug mismatches

Researchers focused on 56 medications which have a history of inducing drug-gene interactions. These include painkillers, antidepressants, and antibiotics. That process led them to conclude that in more than one in five instances (21.1%), a genetic test would have prompted a doctor or pharmacist to “take action” according to international pharmacogenetic guidelines.

Similarly, if genetic screening was applied to all new prescriptions, roughly one in 11 tests (9.1%) would justify a change of drug or dosage. Besides switching to another drug, genetic tests can also determine if a patient may need higher or lower dose. They may also undergo stricter observations when first starting a new drug.

“We know over 95 percent of the population carry a genetic marker that predicts an atypical response to at least one medicine,” says Essra Youssef, a research pharmacist at UEA’s School of Pharmacy, in a university release. “Our study looked at nine of these genetic markers, affecting 56 medicines that are commonly dispensed by community pharmacies in the UK. The most common of these are weak opioids, antidepressants and proton-pump inhibitors, which are prescribed to reduce stomach acid.”

“We wanted to see how pharmacogenetic testing, before being prescribed common medicines, could benefit patients. We found that around four million patients annually in the UK could benefit from having this new technology,” the researcher adds. “Better selection of medicines based on a patient’s genetic information could mean less side-effects and better treatment outcomes. This not only benefits the patient but also the NHS, as patients may not need to return to their GP so often to change their medication.”

Saving the health care system and patients money

Optimal medication selection for patients the first time around benefits both the individual and health care infrastructures. If patients get the right medicine for them in a faster manner, that means less follow-up visits to the doctor and fewer emergency visits too.

Additionally, a genetic screening test is fairly quick and simple, consisting of a simple cheek swab in most scenarios.

“We strongly believe that pharmacy has a key role to play supporting the wider accessibility and use of pharmacogenomics,” comments Marc Donovan, Chief Pharmacist at Boots UK. “Our work shows the benefits that patients and the NHS could get from rolling out a national screening program as part of their plans to embed pharmacogenomics in clinical practice by 2025, and that this testing could be effectively delivered by community pharmacists.”

“Last year, around four million people could have had a change in their prescribing, according to our figures. This would have reduced their risk of side effects and could have led to better clinical outcomes,” he concludes.

The study is published in British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology.