Unlocking the Power of Pharmacogenomics

How your DNA shapes medication effectiveness and can be implemented in employer healthcare benefits:

By Jessica Lea

Pharmacogenomics:  Your DNA and medication effectiveness

Pharmacogenomics, also known as PGx, is a rapidly growing field of study that combines the disciplines of pharmacology and genomics to understand how a person’s genes affect their response to medications. PGx looks at how your DNA impacts the way your body responds to and interacts with certain prescriptions and over-the-counter medications. It aims to identify genetic variations that can predict an individual’s response to a specific drug, allowing for personalized medicine that is tailored to an individual’s genetic make-up. It assesses the risk of an adverse drug response or the likelihood to respond to a given drug relating to drug selection and dosing.

PGx testing and employer healthcare benefits

Our conversations with clients and brokers have revealed that PGx testing is highly sought after, regardless of the number of medications a person takes, due to its lifetime validity. However, the cost of the test is relatively high, making it impractical to offer it as a health-care benefit to all employees.  

However, it is possible to control costs and get the benefits of PGx testing using a plan design that provides testing to high-risk individuals who will benefit the most. 

Why use PGx tests?

Every person metabolizes medications differently, which impacts overall effectiveness. Studies have shown that 50 percent of all medications are ineffective or minimally effective, almost due entirely to an individual genetic variation. In addition, 99 percent of all individuals have at least one genetic mutation that would adversely affect their response to medications. In the United States, adverse drug reactions cause more than 1.3 million emergency-department visits and more than 350,000 hospitalizations per year. All of these facts cause increased health-care costs for individuals and their employers.

How does PGx testing work?

The test is a basic cheek swab that is used to test against more than 300 medications to determine how genetic variations affect the response to specific drugs. We have seen success across many conditions, but especially related to medications used to treat mental health and cardiovascular disease. 

As an example, mental health is a very prevalent disease that is complex and multifaceted. Employees dealing with mental health issues are likely unintentionally less efficient and productive in the workplace than when they are healthy. According to the CDC, employees’ cognitive performance declines in more than one-third of those dealing with mental health challenges. As a result, productivity losses in the workplace can be overwhelming. Depression alone can cost up to $50 billion per year in lost productivity. 

The treatment of mental health often involves a combination of therapy and medication, but finding the right medication and dosage for an individual can be a challenge. PGx can play a significant role in improving health outcomes in this disease state by reducing the trial-and-error approach to medication selection, which can be time-consuming and frustrating for both patients and their providers.

Challenges in PGx testing

While PGx testing has great potential, there are still challenges. First, the reports generated from PGx testing are long and complicated. Therefore, there is a great need for a qualified professional to interpret the reports for patients. Many times, health-care providers may not be familiar with pharmacogenomics testing; therefore collaboration among providers is required. Second, it can be costly, making it prohibitive for employers to offer it as a benefit.

PGx can transform healthcare

Overall, PGx testing has the potential to revolutionize the way drugs are prescribed, making them safer and more effective for individual patients. The information gathered from a PGx test can be used to tailor medication regimens to individual patients, reducing the risk of adverse drug reactions and improving patient outcomes. 

If a person gets the right medication the first time, the positive impacts for the employer and the patient are numerous: fewer sick days at work, and fewer doctor appointments, fewer emergency room visits, which all result in happier, healthier employees. While there are still challenges to be addressed, this is an exciting area of research that has the potential to transform health care.

About the author

Jessica Lea is a PharmD and founder/CEO of Tria Health in Overland Park, Kan.

P | 913.322.8456
E | jlea@triahealth.com