Women's College Research Institute

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Bringing personalized medicine to pharmacies

February 2016

Pharmacogenetics, a form of personalized medicine that uses patients’ genetic profiles to tailor medication choices and doses, has been a rapidly expanding science and become an emerging opportunity for clinicians to optimize care for their patients.

In the United States, several pharmacogenetics tests have been approved for marketing, and some are also now available in Canada. In addition, clinical practice guidelines for using pharmacogenetic information exist and continue to evolve. What’s missing, though, is comprehensive training to teach health professionals how to interpret and apply test results.

Eager to incorporate pharmacogenetics into professional practice, a team from Women’s College Hospital (WCH), the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Toronto recently launched a research initiative that will train and support community and family health team pharmacists in bringing this new set of knowledge and skills to their patients.

“Given their mix of medication knowledge and accessibility in the community, pharmacists are in a great position to bring pharmacogenetics to their patients,” says Lisa McCarthy, PharmD, pharmacy scientist at WCH and the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy.

McCarthy is co-leading the research with colleague Beth Sproule, PharmD, clinician scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy. The study is funded by the Canadian Foundation for Pharmacy.

The study will evaluate a new personalized medicine training program for pharmacists. Natalie Crown, PharmD, pharmacy clinician educator at WCH and the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, led the development of the program.

“Pharmacogenetics has only recently become a core component in pharmacy curricula,” says Crown.  “Survey data tell us that pharmacists are interested in using this information in their practice, but many have indicated they need some training to develop expertise in the area.” 

The study will also assess patient and prescriber use of the pharmacists’ new personalized medicine service while exploring the impact on patient outcomes. This initiative generated much excitement in the pharmacy community, with more than 130 expressions of interest from pharmacists within two days of launching recruitment.

At least 25 pharmacists and 250 patients from across Ontario will take part in the study. In November 2015, WCH hosted pharmacist participants for the first phase of the study (the training program).  The pharmacist training continued online for several more weeks and patients will start enrolling in the study in early 2016. The pharmacists will identify patients who might benefit from pharmacogenetics testing, refer the patients for the testing, interpret the results and make pharmacotherapy recommendations to the patients and their prescribers.

“We’re evaluating an innovative pharmacy practice model that has the potential to significantly and positively impact patient care while advancing the role of pharmacists in primary care settings,” says McCarthy.

The study investigator team also includes Micheline Piquette-Miller, PhD; Dr. Daniel Mueller; and Dr. James Kennedy. The findings will be available by early 2017 and will be shared with key stakeholders.

Participants from the pharmacist personalized medicine training program
Participants from the pharmacist personalized medicine training program hosted by WCH on November 13-14, 2015.

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