Individual DNA passport could result in fewer drug side effects

You may be required to show a DNA passport when you pick up medicines at the pharmacy in the future. According to a new study, patients might suffer 30% fewer side effects if the drug treatment is adapted to their genes.

It is not uncommon for patients to experience side effects from medication. How well a drug works or doesn’t work often depends on our genes. For example, studies have shown that genes inherited from Neanderthals can affect how well your body breaks down drugs, however, the number of genes and gene variants that cause us to react differently to drugs are numerous.

In a brand new study published in The Lancet, almost 7,000 patients from seven different clinics in Europe were analysed with the aim of determining whether individual genetic testing of patients before they receive their drugs can help. The researchers were surprised at the difference it made.

“The result was astonishing. When we determined the genotype of twelve key genes, the result was that we got a 30% lower frequency of side effects from drugs,” says Magnus Ingelman-Sundberg, Professor of Molecular Toxicology at the Karolinska Institute, to Life Science Sweden.

The researchers have also developed and clinically validated a so-called DNA passport in the newly published study. The information from patients’ genetic tests was stored in a small credit card-like card that fits in a wallet.

“The passport provides information about the patient’s genotype and how to take it into account. Patients can then bring their passport to a doctor or pharmacist where they can see how much of the medication they should prescribe,” says Magnus Ingelman-Sundberg, one of the authors of the study.

He has worked with the method as an expert at the European Medicines Agency (EMA) for many years, and he believes that there is now sufficient evidence that a DNA passport could actually be useful.

However, the principle of adapting treatment to a patient’s individual genetic variations, precision medicine, is not a new concept.

“What is new here is the broad aspect, how a general practitioner or a doctor out in the field in various disciplines can get guidance from knowing the genetic information.”

The researchers are now continuing their work to find additional gene variants that are important for a drug treatment. Magnus Ingelman-Sundberg hopes that the results from this study will lead to healthier people and lower social costs in the future.

“A study of this kind has never been done before in which a concept is tested in a large European population. The results are both socio-economically significant because drug side effects are costly, and they are also significant for patients as they get a better effect from the drugs.”

Facts about the study

Researchers from the Leiden University Centre in the Netherlands, in collaboration with, among others, the Karolinska Institute coordinated the study. First, the patients underwent genetic testing focusing on twelve genes that are important for drug metabolism, drug transport and immunological reactions to drugs. Afterwards, the participants were either given medicine exactly as usual, or medicine adapted to their specific genotypes. A specialist nurse then followed up on the treatment after twelve weeks and asked about side effects. The conclusion was that by analysing genes that code for enzymes that process and transport drugs in the body, it is possible to reduce drug side effects. The study was conducted between March 2017 and June 2020 and was mainly funded by EU Horizon 2020.

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