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Pharmacogenetic Testing

A revolutionary new tool in personalized, precision medicine

Posted by Rebecca Smith on May 29, 2019

Brown eyes or blue? Tall or short? Full head of hair or bald? You can thank (or blame) your parents for your unique physical features. Our bodies are made up of thousands of genes we inherited from our mothers and fathers that together form our DNA. These genes determine the characteristics that are specific to us, from our eye colour to our blood type.

Genes are also responsible for how we metabolize or process medications. That means we all respond differently to drugs due to variations in our DNA. Genes can be the reason some drugs cause mild to severe side effects, like nausea, weight gain, even abnormal heart rhythms, or no adverse reactions at all.

Now imagine a test that could pinpoint the drugs that may be best for our bodies from a small sample of our saliva.

It could be life changing, right?

Pharmacogenetics makes it possible.

What is pharmacogenetic testing?

Hailed as a revolutionary tool in personalized health care, pharmacogenetics studies our body’s ability to respond to certain drug medication treatment, based on our genetic makeup.

The word pharmacogenetics combines the words pharmacology (the study of the uses and effects of medications) and genomics (the study of genes and their functions.

Pharmacogenetic testing (PGx) looks for changes or variants in our genes to match drugs to our unique genome or genetic profile. The predictive insights provided by PGx helps treating physicians identify the right medications at the right dose for optimal health outcomes for their patients.

Who benefits from testing?

This new form of precision medicine has broad implications for all health care stakeholders, including employers and insurers.

Annual prescription medication expenditures in Canada total over $30 billion.1

Patients can feel better, faster and return to work sooner, confident in their treatment - saving time, worry and expense for all concerned. Ultimately, PGx has the potential to reduce the duration of disability claims, prevent recurrence, and possibly lower drug spends.

It is important to note that these tests look at gene markers to gain predictive insights into a patient’s tolerance to certain medications. However, other factors, beyond genes, can also affect our response to drugs such as age, weight and diet.

Isn’t genetic testing prohibited?

PGx is not to be confused with “recreational genetics” that can help us trace our ancestral roots – think AncestryDNA – or genetic testing that reads our DNA to determine our potential risk for disease.

PGx analyzes only the specific genes involved in drug metabolism to determine the risk of toxicity and side effects. They do not assess a patient’s inherited predisposition to disease, which by law, under Bill S-201, prohibits discrimination based on genetic characteristics. PGx does not impact patients’ insurance.

Approximately 95 per cent of the population have at least one genetic variation in enzymes responsible for drug metabolism.2

Does Medavie Blue Cross offer testing?

We recently announced a pilot project to offer pharmacogenetic testing using GeneYouIn’s Pillcheck™ system. It’s the latest way our organization is leveraging new innovations and technologies to make sure plan dollars are well spent and that plan members get the best treatment possible.

The pharmacogenetic testing pilot will be offered on a voluntary basis with an initial focus on mental health and pain management claims.

Veronika Litinkski, CEO of GeneYouIn Inc. describes pharmacogenetic testing as a “powerful tool” for containing benefit plan costs and for improving plan members’ experiences. She adds that the earlier the service is used to guide treatment, the more beneficial it is for both employee and their employer. In fact, according to Litinkski, targeted programs show an 84 per cent probability of saving between $200,000 and $400,000 per 1,000 plan members.3

The service complements the many existing case management tools we use for disability claim management; the ultimate goal is to give our plan members and their treating physicians access to tools to help with an effective return to health.

Who receives testing results?

Plan member participation in pharmacogenetic testing is voluntary and confidential. Pillcheck is compliant with all industry regulations that protect data privacy.

Once the testing results are processed, they are forwarded directly to the plan members who can share them with their health care practitioner, at their discretion, to prescribe gene-guided drug therapies and dosages.

Pending results of the pilot, pharmacogenetic testing will be rolled out as an optional benefit to all Medavie Blue Cross plan sponsors.

We believe pharmacogenetics opens up an exciting new frontier in health care that allows plan members to unlock their genetic code to receive the right drug, at the right time – and at the right price for plan sponsors.


1Do Genetic Tests Belong in Benefit Plans, Benefits and Pensions Monitor, October 2018, by Veronika Litinski, CEO, GeneYouIn Inc.

2GeneYouIn Inc.

3 Do Genetic Tests Belong in Benefit Plans, Benefits and Pensions Monitor, October 2018, by Veronika Litinski, CEO, GeneYouIn Inc.