Drug side effects like drowsiness, nausea or headaches can be annoying. Still, other side effects like elevated heart rate, depression and anemia can be downright dangerous. The worst part is, doctors don’t always know how a drug will affect one individual vs. another, and serious side effects are often unpredictable. What if scientists could run a blood test to see how certain drugs would affect different types of individuals before they take a drug? According to studies done at the University of California and a new test called GeneSight, it looks like this is already a real possibility for drug research companies, doctors and patients alike.
According to Science Daily, researchers at the University of California in San Diego (UCSD) are working on a model to predict drug side effects on various individuals based on the analysis of red blood cells. Patients with different genotypes metabolize drugs in different ways. By analyzing the reactions in red blood cells of different genotypes, scientists can prove which patients will experience rare adverse reactions.
So far, they have used this model to find which individuals will be at a high risk for developing anemia induced by ribavirin, a drug that is prescribed to treat hepatitis C. This reaction only occurs in 8-10% of patients. This model is still in its beginning stages and needs to be tested on a much larger group of individuals. So far, researchers have only analyzed 24 patients.
A similar test that is already available to patients is called GeneSight Psychotropic. This test analyzes certain genes and predicts how 99% of the drugs on the market for depression will affect an individual. It also provides results for other mental health medications that treat anxiety, panic disorder, PTSD, OCD, PMDD and schizophrenia. After discussing which medications might be best for a particular patient to treat a mental health issue, psychiatrists and patients can use GeneSight to see how the patient will be affected by the drug before it is prescribed. The analysis comes back with medications grouped into three categories: Use as Directed, Use with Caution and Use with Increased Caution and Monitoring. In addition to predicting adverse reactions, this test can help doctors to prescribe a more accurate dosage right off the bat.
The cost of this test is currently covered by Medicare and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. It is also covered by some commercial insurance companies, and this number continues to grow. This advancement puts us closer to being able to predict a drug’s side effects for every individual patient.