More info about this fact

Imagine a world where you can be certain the medications you are prescribed will help you, without negative side effects. This is closer than you think.

This discipline of science, called pharmacogenomics, is the analysis of how a person’s genes will affect the way they react to medications. Pharmacogenomics is of particular interest in the field of mental health. Finding the best medication for people living with depression is currently a trial-and-error process for prescribing doctors. One medication may work wonderfully for one person but be ineffective for another or cause negative side effects. Research shows that fifty percent of people living with depression don’t respond to the first medication that doctors prescribe, and thirty percent of people don’t find a medication that works after trying several different antidepressant medications. Finding the right medication can be a frustrating, unpleasant, slow, and expensive process, but how can doctors eliminate the guess work? The answer may lie in your DNA.

Your DNA gives clues about whether you will experience negative side effects from a particular medication, and how effective it might be in relieving symptoms. So, let’s imagine there is a gene that impacts how well a person will respond to fictional antidepressant medication ‘Z1000’, let’s call this gene the ‘ABC’ gene. There are 4 versions of this gene, ABC1, ABC2. ABC3 and ABC4. Researchers have studied these gene variations closely, and they know that individuals with the ABC1 gene will suffer with extreme dizziness if given Z1000. They also know those with ABC2 will experience severe insomnia, and those with ABC3 will be at high risk of seizures. People with ABC4 however, will have no negative side effects from Z1000, and it will effectively treat the symptoms of depression. Before prescribing Z1000 a doctor could sequence their patient’s DNA and determine which version of the ABC gene they have and prescribe Z1000 only if the patient has the ABC4 variant. While this medication, and these gene variants are fictional, these possibly debilitating side effects are real side effects some people have in response to antidepressant medication.

Pharmacogenomics, while still a relatively new discipline, has a great deal of promise. More research will be required to learn more about the genes that impact the way medications work in our bodies but learning more will help doctors choose the most effective medicine for their patients, that will have few or no negative side effects. These benefits won’t just be limited to helping mental health conditions, people requiring therapeutic treatment for HIV, cancer, asthma, heart disease, and numerous other conditions could benefit from pharmacogenomics too. Unlocking a patient’s genes to inform which medications are going to be most effective will make a huge impact on improving patient outcomes in the coming years.

You may also be interested in watching this short video about how pharmacogenomics was able to protect a young girl from negative side effects of cancer treatments. You can also read more about some of the pharmacogenomics research we are funding.