As Prescribed: Pharmacogenomic testing and the future of medicine


SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS RADIO) – Is it possible to avoid bad reactions to medication?

UCSF is one of a handful of institutions in the U.S. that can tailor medications based on patient genetics. Alice Wertz of KCBS Radio’s “As Prescribed” talked to Bani Tamraz, program lead of the new Pharmacogenomics Program, to learn more.

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“What this does is it adds one more level, one more factor that clinicians can consider when they’re deciding on the best treatment for the patient,” he explained.

According to UCSF, this pharmacogenomics program is the first in California. It began offering the service May 9.

Patients are required to supply a blood sample that is tested for 15 genes that are involved in the metabolism of 56 different medications. These medications are used to treat cancer, transplantation, pain, heart conditions, infectious diseases, depression and other conditions.

Tamraz – who is also an associate professor of clinical pharmacy at UCSF – offered an example during his “As Prescribed” interview: a cholesterol drug that can cause muscle pains and aches for patients with certain genetic markers. Once a patient is tested for a medication, that information becomes a part of their medical history and can be applied to other potential prescriptions going forward.

Pharmacogenomics has the potential not just to prevent aches, pains and spending. It could also save lives.

“You know, adverse drug reactions are considered one of the fourth leading cause of death in the United States,” with around 100,000 deaths annually, said Tamraz.

He added that adverse reactions are also responsible for millions of hospitalizations. UCSF estimates that 30% of adverse reactions can be reduced through pharmacogenomic testing.

“I consider pharmacogenetics by investing in it, by implementing it, is like you’re investing in airbags or seatbelts only for medication,” he said. “So, by providing this coverage for testing, we could save lives and we could, you know, benefit by patient outcome and patient care.”

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