Royal Pharmaceutical Society

What is pharmacogenomics – and its impact on my role

By Sophie Harding, RPS Lead for Pharmacogenomics

I've recently started as the RPS Lead for Pharmacogenomics two days a week, and the remainder of my week I continue to practise as an Advanced Oncology Pharmacist at Velindre Cancer Centre in Cardiff.

What is pharmacogenomics?

Pharmacogenomics is defined as ‘how an individual’s genetic information determines how an individual manages and responds to medicines’, and is one aspect of genomics which will have a significant impact on the day-to-day practice of all pharmacists and pharmacy teams in the very near future.

Over the last 14 years, I have practised as a cancer pharmacist and have gained a wide range of experience within various aspects of my role, including whilst practising as a pharmacist independent prescriber within cancer services since qualifying in 2010. My cancer prescribing role involves reviewing and prescribing cancer treatments for patients throughout their cancer journey - as well as assessing patients, along with various test results which can include the result of a pharmacogenomic test.

Making medicines safer for patients

In early 2020, I developed a passion for genomics when co-leading a pilot project to safely implement a pharmacogenomic test (DPYD test), alongside medical colleagues in collaboration with the All Wales Medical Genomics Service (AWMGS). The DPYD test is a pharmacogenomic test which helps to determine how a patient will respond to a certain cancer drug and tells us whether the dose prescribed needs to be personalised for that particular patient, or whether the drug needs to be avoided completely in order to reduce the risk of the patient experiencing serious side effects from their cancer treatment. In healthcare we are moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach to treatment which has been replaced by a better tailored approach, where a patient’s medicines can be optimised.

Enabling this test to be used routinely had an important impact on improving patient safety. The collaborative implementation of DPYD testing was later rolled out across Wales by AWMGS and the project and its roll out won a MediWales award. Following this, I became the first pharmacist Genomic Champion in Wales, a role that aims to raise awareness about genomics to healthcare staff, whilst sharing and creating education opportunities.

Building the future

Since working on the implementation of DPYD testing, my passion for genomics has developed further and has led to my role as the RPS Lead for Pharmacogenomics. I am very keen to raise awareness of the key role that pharmacists already play in genomics within specialist areas, but also very enthusiastic about the future role pharmacists can play within pharmacogenomics across all areas of healthcare.

My ambition is that all pharmacists will use their expertise as medicines experts with extensive scientific training on the frontline of patient care to be leaders on the implementation of pharmacogenomic testing in all areas of healthcare.  It will transform how we care for patients and is such an exciting area to be practising in. The RPS will be providing information, resources, and guidance in order for pharmacists to gain key skills and knowledge in this area.

Pharmacogenomics will be explored in detail at the RPS Science and Research Summit on Friday 24 June 2022 at County Hall, London (Virtual attendance also available) We have a fantastic line-up of speakers for a day packed with science, research, innovation and networking. Join us.  

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