Greenville’s Precision Genetics matches patients with most effective medications

View the Original article on the Upstate Business Journal.

In terms of the effectiveness of a variety of life-saving medications, one size does not fit all.

What works efficiently for one person might barely work for another, leading to increased health risks and costs. Switching from medication to medication in an attempt to alleviate this dilemma only compounds the potential for undesirable outcomes.

Enter Precision Genetics, a Greenville-based health-care technology company that specializes in pharmacogenetics services for doctors, health care systems and employers. Pharmacogenetics is the study of how people respond differently to drug therapy based on their genetic makeup.

“By using genetically-guided support applications we can impact the cost of health care in a variety of ways,” said Nate Wilbourne, founder and chief executive officer of Precision Genetics. “We can reduce the risk of long-term health care occurrences related to improper care plans. We can reduce the total number of medications being prescribed. And more importantly, we can reduce the risks of adverse drug reactions that can create huge costs for patients, their health care plans and the health system which is treating them.”

Precision Genetics was founded in 2015 and now employs about 60 people. The company collaborates with major health care organizations, academic institutions, employer groups and skilled nursing facilities throughout South Carolina and the United States. Its CLIA-certified laboratory has conducted hundreds of thousands of tests designed to provide genetic answers that help devise individualized treatment plans.

The potential improvements in health outcomes and cost savings go far beyond just paying for different medications. If patients are taking medications that don’t match their genetic profile they could end up with serious health issues that might otherwise have been avoidable. Wilbourne says the costs in health care are misaligned and instead should be evolving with the technology, the science and the innovative solutions that are continuing to burgeon.

“The cost to run a genetic analysis is minimal compared to the cost of admission to a hospital due to an adverse drug reaction, a postoperative complication or something even more catastrophic,” said Wilbourne, a former college and NBA basketball player with more than 20 years of experience in the health care field. “If physicians buy into the science and use the individual’s personal playbook as a way to treat them as opposed to the historical way of treating patients via trial and error, then we are making a difference for the good. Our technology platform allows us to take genetic information and make it applicable in a physician’s workflow by streamlining and automating the process.”

Guided by Precision Genetics’ high-tech testing, physicians are provided the option to prescribe medications based on genetic insights. This eliminates waste and saves customers money. For example, if a patient who has suffered a heart attack is taking a blood thinner that doesn’t work for him, he might as well be taking a sugar pill. He also might end up having either a stroke or a second heart attack. This results in an emergency room visit, more surgery and also the cost of staying in the hospital. But if the patient got the medication right the first time he could have avoided the stroke or second heart attack and the associated costs.

Precision Genetics sign

Cortney Boccardi, director of marketing for Precision Genetics, says that in the U.S. roughly $528 billion is spent every year on medications that aren’t effective and that about 50% of all medications don’t work. With an automated process based on pharmacogenetic testing, a significant percentage of this can be avoided.

“But there are doctors, nurses, pharmacists and even hospital systems that aren’t making use of this technology because of a lack of education. They remain unaware of its availability, or, they’ve heard of it but don’t believe that it is clinically relative today,” Boccardi said. “We know that the lack of education on pharmacogenetics in medical school or even pharmacy school is the primary reason why most health care systems and doctors have not taken this kind of test seriously.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Precision Genetics received a $250,000 investment from the South Carolina Research Authority through the SCRA’s entrepreneurial SC Launch program to expand its processing of COVID-19 test kits. It was a further boost for a company already on the rise.

“We were happy to fund SCRA companies that were providing critical solutions during the height of the pandemic. Precision Genetics quickly pivoted their operations from providing advanced molecular testing to COVID-19 testing at a time when most of that testing was being conducted by out-of-state operations,” said Steve Johnson, SCRA investment manager. “By providing in-state COVID testing, patients’ results were obtained usually within 24 hours rather than having to wait up to five days. Precision Genetics became a vital part of our state’s fight to manage this dangerous disease.”

Did you know?

  • 82% of Americans take at least one medication.
  • The FDA says that 50% of medications taken by patients are ineffective.
  • Adverse Drug Reactions (ADR) are the fourth leading cause of death.
  • 20-30% of health-care benefit costs are prescriptions.
  • Prescription costs increase 3-9% every year.