Peace pharmacies helping to personalize medication

Two Peace Region pharmacies have played a key role in helping researchers understand the links between prescription drugs and the varying effects on the people who take them.

Pharmacies in Fort St. John and Chetwynd took part in a province-wide pharmacogenomics study called Genomics for Precision Drug Therapy in the Community Pharmacy, the first research project of its size in North America.

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Two-hundred volunteers submitted saliva samples to 33 pharmacies across the province, allowing University of British Columbia researchers to sequence their DNA and study the role genetics play in drugs prescribed to patients.

"As genomics advances, what we're looking at is curtailing drug treatment to patients and understanding how differences in DNA leads to different responses (with a drug)," said Tyler Drapeau, one of two pharmacists at the Fort St. John Pharmacy and Wellness Centre who recruited 10 local volunteers for the study.

"Your DNA codes for different proteins or messenger molecules in your body. Proteins are involved in large, superstructures of enzymes and those enzymes can be involved in drug metabolism, they can be involved in how a drug binds to different receptors in your body, and that can translate into a specific effect within the body, and also lead to a difference in side effects.

"It's about making better choices (for prescriptions)," Drapeau added.

"We see those differences in your genetic information and that tells us and the patient's physician that maybe we should avoid this drug because of the potential of this certain risk."

Pharmacogenomics uses a person’s genetics to tailor their drug treatment and dosage, said Corey Nislow, an associate professor in pharmaceutical sciences at UBC and a researcher in the study.

There are more the 150 medications, ranging from mental health to heart disease to cancer-fighting drugs, that are impacted by a person's DNA, Nislow said.

The patients in the study were all prescribed warfarin, a blood thinner used to treat blood clots.

"We wanted to pick a drug that was commonly prescribed and we would have a good body of data that's already been collected to compare our results to," Nislow said.

"It's a good drug but it's also a drug (where) your genetics has a very strong impact on the dose."

The research will help pharmacists understand genetic influences on today's drugs and tomorrow's drugs, Nislow said.

That will help avoid waste in healthcare spending, he noted, helping doctors to avoid prescribing drugs that have little to no effect.

"So many drugs are discarded with the bottle of pills half-full because you shouldn't have prescribed that in the first place because, for example, you couldn't metabolize it," he said.

Nislow said the study will now be expanded to 1,000 patients for further research.

The study was funded by the BC Pharmacy Association and Genome British Columbia.

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