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Experts call for NHS to provide genetic tests to help usher in era of personalised medicine © Getty Images

Experts call for NHS to provide genetic tests to help usher in era of personalised medicine

Published: 29th March, 2022 at 16:02

We must move away from the current ‘one drug and one dose fits all’ model to make treatments safer and more effective, report says.

Genetic testing to predict how patients respond to a range of common drugs should be made available on the NHS as soon as possible, a group of experts have said in a report published by the Royal College of Physicians and the British Pharmacological Society.

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There can be a huge variation in how different people respond to drugs due to differences in their genes. The tests that the report authors are calling for are known as pharmacogenomic tests, and can be used to check how safe, effective and side-effect-free more than 40 drugs are in each individual patient by identifying variations in their genes.

The report authors say that 99 per cent of patients carry at least one of these variations.

While some pharmacogenomic tests are currently available on the NHS, such as one for the chemotherapy drug fluorouracil, they are not available for most of the drugs on the list, which includes commonly prescribed painkillers, beta blockers and antidepressants.

One striking example is codeine, a commonly prescribed painkiller. Around eight per cent of people in the UK lack the gene this drug acts on and so don’t experience any pain relief from taking it.

“The UK is a world leader in genomic medicine, and the implementation of a wider range of pharmacogenomic tests would further demonstrate UK leadership,” said Professor Sir Munir Pirmohamed, David Weatherall Chair of Medicine at the University of Liverpool, and Chair of the report’s working party.

“Today we are calling on government and the health service to ensure that patients across the UK are offered these tests where there is evidence to show their utility. For patients, this will mean the medicines they take are more likely to work and will be safer.

“In the 21st Century, we need to move away from the paradigm of ‘one drug and one dose fits all’ to a more personalised approach where patients are given the right drug at the right dose to improve the effectiveness and safety of medicines.”

Read more about personalised medicine:

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Authors

Jason Goodyer
Jason GoodyerCommissioning editor, BBC Science Focus

Jason is the commissioning editor for BBC Science Focus. He holds an MSc in physics and was named Section Editor of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors in 2019. He has been reporting on science and technology for more than a decade. During this time, he's walked the tunnels of the Large Hadron Collider, watched Stephen Hawking deliver his Reith Lecture on Black Holes and reported on everything from simulation universes to dancing cockatoos. He looks after the magazine’s and website’s news sections and makes regular appearances on the Science Focus Podcast.

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