Helping the medicine go down

(Edmonton) Sharon Marsh is a geneticist who believes improving a patient’s treatment outcomes should be accessible worldwide.

To address what she sees as a growing need to personalize health-care treatments, Marsh joined a group of researchers who wanted to find a way to provide affordable world-wide genetic-based medication screening. They created an American-based non-profit organization called Pharmacogenetics for Every Nation Initiative, where Marsh is the first Canadian researcher to work with the initiative and holds the position of chief genomics officer.

“Every individual reacts differently to drug treatment. These small differences can have a large impact on recovery,” said Marsh, an assistant professor in Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. “Unfortunately, developing countries don’t have the infrastructure or the funds to run genetic tests that may identify these different outcomes on each patient.”

In response to that need, the initiative aims to identify groups of people within a country’s population who are at high risk of toxicity or treatment failure, based on the groups’ genetic information. That information is then sent to ministries of health in the form of medical decision trees and are guides, which will help health-care providers choose drug treatments. The initiative will also assist with treatment selection directed by the World Health Organization’s recommended therapies and Essential Medications List. Medication selection on a country-specific basis maximizes outcomes and reduces the chances of side-effects at no cost to local health-care systems.

The Pharmacogenetics for Every Nation Initiative will not release personal identifiers and will hold any personal information, such as DNA, in a password-protected data repository. “Ultimately, some of the population data will be published, with a lot of the information coming from previously published studies. Apart from country/ethnicity/tribe information there will be no identifiers published, just anonymous blood donor information that is frequently published already."