Hope Pharmasave pharmacist Lindsay Kufta was chosen to help conduct a genomics study, along with 33 other pharmacists. Her task was to collect saliva samples from a local population for DNA sequencing at a lab in UBC.
— Image Credit: Erin Knutson
Pharmasave in Hope has taken part in North America’s first research project that ultimately aims to bring the science of pharmacogenomics to patients using their community pharmacy.
Pharmacogenomics uses a person’s genetics to uncover which drugs and in what dosage work best for them.
The project, called ‘Genomics for Precision Drug Therapy in the Community Pharmacy,’ was funded by the BC Pharmacy Association (BCPhA) and Genome British Columbia (Genome BC) with research being done by a team at the University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences.
Across the province 33 community pharmacies recruited 200 volunteer patients to be part of the project. The project set out to position the pharmacist as the health-care provider through which patient genetic information can be acquired, assessed and used to guide drug therapy decisions. Until now, this work had been done almost exclusively in cancer agencies or research labs.
“I am excited that the community of Hope has had the opportunity to be involved in a project that may shape the future of pharmacy – allowing patients to know which medications are right for them before they even start,” said Lindsay Kufta, pharmacist at the Hope Pharmasave, one of the pharmacies involved in the project.
“It was great to see how many people in our community were eager to participate in this project that has the potential to help so many.”
The project focused on developing robust standard operating procedures for the collection of patient saliva samples, processing and sequencing of DNA at UBC and the development of educational tools used by pharmacists for patient awareness.
Community pharmacists finished collecting all 200 saliva samples in late 2015, and UBC researchers finished sequencing samples on January 22.
UBC researchers will do a retrospective analysis of DNA information to learn how genetics would have altered the drug dosage patients were prescribed.
“One of the most immediate opportunities for genomics in health care is to guide treatment decisions and reduce the risk of adverse drug reactions. This project is tackling just that by enabling pharmacists the insights needed to match the right medication, at the right dose, to the right patient,” said Dr. Catalina Lopez-Correa, Vice President, Sectors and Chief Scientific Officer, Genome BC. “This work reflects Genome BC’s ambition to translate the value of genomics to end-users in BC and beyond.”
In recent years, pharmacogenomics, or using a person’s genetics to tailor their drug treatment, has only been used to treat cancer or rare diseases. However, there are more than 150 medications – ranging from mental health to heart disease to cancer drugs – that are impacted by a patient’s DNA.
According to Dr. Corey Nislow, associate professor at the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences at UBC, the research is especially beneficial for patients using antidepressants and other psychiatric medications, where finding the right fit is often difficult.
It is a time sensitive issue and can stretch out for prolonged periods of time while the correct dosage and combination is being determined.
Patients will often go through six to nine different drugs before they find the one that works, often suffering in the process a host of terrible side effects.
“Many patients dealing with mental health issues try a drug, usually you start with a little and then you go up — you want to reach a level of efficacy in the process, but you might go up, and then slowly cycle down,” said Geraldine Vance, CEO of the BC Pharmacy Association.
The research is promising because it’s possible to find the drug that works with the genetic variants specific to the patient.
“We showed that pharmacy can be the gateway to personalized medication in our communities,” said Vance. “Regardless of the location – urban or rural – patients had a consistent, quality experience with their community pharmacist as it relates to pharmacogenomics.”