Royal Pharmaceutical Society

Implementing Pharmacogenetics in the NHS: Creating the Best Service for Healthcare Professionals and the Public

image of John McDermott, NIHR Research Fellow at Manchester Universityby John McDermott, NIHR Research Fellow at Manchester University

What is pharmacogenetics and why is it important?

Using genetic information to make medicines safer and more effective is called pharmacogenetics.

This idea can be really beneficial for patients and the healthcare service in the NHS. In the past ten years, we've learned that certain genetic differences can affect how people respond to medicines, influencing their safety and effectiveness. We now have guidelines to help doctors prescribe medicines based on a person's genetics. But right now, the NHS only uses this for a small number of drug-gene pairs, and it's done when a prescription is needed.

Revolutionising pharmacogenetics in healthcare: The PROGRESS programme

Now, the NHS, via the PROGRESS Programme, is working on a new way to use pharmacogenetics, co-designed with clinical and public stakeholders. One option they're looking into is pre-emptive panel testing. This means testing people for many common genetic differences all at once. The results will be saved in their medical records and used whenever they need a prescription in the future.

The goal of the PROGRESS Programme is to create a system that makes pharmacogenetics a normal part of healthcare. Critically, the ambition is to create a service allowing for real-time data and information exchange across different healthcare settings, like general practice, community pharmacies and hospitals. As this data is relevant across an individual’s life and for many classes of medicine, this information is relevant in many different healthcare contexts.

The PROGRESS programme has validated a panel-based test and created an approach to automatically move the results into a format which is readily understandable by healthcare professionals who may have no formal training in genetics.

Instead of showing complex genetic codes, the results are given alongside a suggested prescription. For example, if someone has a specific genetic code, the doctor might prescribe a different medicine to avoid side effects. This system is being tested in the PROGRESS Trial, where patients from general practice get their genetic information quickly to help with their prescriptions.

The future of pre-emptive pharmacogenetics: Insights from healthcare professionals

Despite these positive developments, there is still no clear consensus around how a pre-emptive pharmacogenetic programme should be designed in the NHS.

What is certain is that the design of any service should be informed by the opinions and experiences of the healthcare professionals who will be using it. To do this, the PROGRESS team have developed a Discrete Choice Experiment (DCE) aimed at healthcare professionals who can be compensated for their time. A DCE is an interactive survey which presents a series of hypothetical choices to the user.

By working with healthcare professionals and the public, the PROGRESS programme hopes to implement pharmacogenetics within routine practice. Pharmacists will play a significant role in any future programme, and their involvement in its development will be critical to its success.

The survey takes around 10-15 minutes to complete & you can take part even if you have no prior knowledge of pharmacogenetics.

Take the survey.

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