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Medical ‘smart cards’ could help pharmacists tailor prescriptions

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The rollout of medical “smart cards” could be speeded up after research found that tailoring medicines to a person’s DNA reduces side effects by 30 percent.

Family doctors in Liverpool and Manchester will begin piloting the technique in a scheme that, if successful, could expand across the UK, in GP surgeries and hospitals.

That could herald a new dawn in personalised medicine and see people carry a DNA “smart card” so prescriptions can be tailored to what is most safe and effective for them.

The new research, published in The Lancet, is the first time genetic profiling has been found to show benefits of DNA-tailored drug prescriptions.

Experts believe it will save lives and cut hospital admissions from unwanted adverse side effects that cost the NHS an estimated £1billion a year.

The study, which involved 7,000 patients from seven European countries and was led in the UK by experts at the University of Liverpool, used DNA profiling to help tailor 39 widely used NHS prescriptions. These were used to treat a range of problems including cancer, heart disease and mental illness.

It found those whose drugs were adjusted according to their DNA profile – or smart card, also known as a “medication pass” – experienced 30 percent fewer serious side effects than patients taking standard medication without DNA profiling.

Professor Sir Munir Pirmo­­hamed, an expert in drugs and genetics at the University of Liverpool, who ran the UK arm of the multicentre trial, said: “This form of testing will help revolutionise both how we can treat patients and the future of precision medicine using more ­targeted therapies.

“Our goal is to improve the safety and effectiveness of medicines, moving medicine away from the ‘one size fits all’, trial and error approach.”

During the study, researchers analysed each patient’s DNA using blood or saliva swabs in order to identify 12 genes linked to various adverse drug responses. These were held on a patient’s electronic record, or smart card.

In the “active” arm of the study, prescription drugs were tailored to their DNA to help guide doctors about the best drugs to use, while the control group took the drugs without any adjustments.

Up to 12 weeks after starting treatment, patients were contacted and asked about drug side effects, such as diarrhoea, anaemia, nerve pain or muscle pain.

Professor Pirmohamed said: “We showed that using the DNA blueprint we could reduce side effects by 30 percent – a remarkable reduction with a single intervention.”

He added that in future the technique could be used to screen for a wider range of side effects and identify the most effective drug doses or brands for individual patients.

He said: “This would save on ­hospital admissions for drug ­reactions and could save lives.”

Between 2008 and 2015 – the latest data available – the number of emergency hospital admissions caused by adverse drug reactions increased by 53 percent.

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  • Posted on February 11, 2023