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What is pharmacogenomics?

22 May 2016 • By Sara Tiefenbrun

A new era of personalised medicine 

Companies like myDNA are involved in an exciting new area of personalised medicine known as pharmacogenomics. So what is it?

Pharmacogenomics is the branch of genetics which looks at the likely response of an individual to therapeutic drugs.

Once a person’s likely response to medication is known, a doctor can decide how best to tailor the drug treatment to match a person’s genetic profile.

How is pharmacogenomics being used?

In a small but growing number of cases worldwide, doctors are using pharmacogenomics to guide their treatment of patients.

Genetic testing has been used to dramatically reduce the number of people suffering side effects to HIV medicines. A test known as TMPT is also used to guide treatments for inflammatory bowel disease. Pharmacogenomics is also helping doctors to establish the right dose of warfarin.

Finding disease variants

Humans share around 99.5 per cent of their genomes. The 0.5 per cent that differs between each of us affects our susceptibility to disease and our response to drugs.

People respond differently to medicines. Most respond well and their health improves. Some do not gain any benefits and a minority suffer side effects. How your body metabolises drugs is determined in part by your genes. Understanding an individual’s genetics can help doctors to more accurately determine which drug and which dose is best for a patient.

The challenges of pharmacogenomics

It is relatively rare for a particular drug response to be affected by a single genetic variant. There are often a large number of interacting genetic and environmental factors that may include the response to a drug.

What do we test for at myDNA?

At myDNA we are able to use a cheek swab test to gather your genomic information. Once we have your results we look at how your genetic profile impacts the way you process medication.

We report how your body metabolises a range of drugs including antidepressants, antipsychotics, as well as over the counter pain relief. After the results are provided your doctor might wish to alter your prescription based on the information we provide.

What is the evidence base that supports our recommendations?

Our recommendations for tailoring medication according to genotype are supported by several international bodies, such as the Clinical Pharmacogenetics Implementation Consortium (CPIC), the Royal Dutch Association for the Advancement of Pharmacy – Pharmacogenetics Working Group and specific professional societies. These recommendations are displayed on the PharmGKB website headed “Dosing Guidelines” with a listing of the original studies.


  1. Your Genome
  2. Nature

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About the Author

Photo of Sara Tiefenbrun

Sara Tiefenbrun

Media Producer

Sara is a journalist with fifteen years' experience in media production. She spent a decade making documentaries at the BBC in London before relocating to Melbourne in 2009. Her research interests include health and education.

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