Precision medicine: a pragmatic addition to your DEI strategyVeronika Litinski, MSc Medicinal Chemistry, MBA
A recent study found that nearly 75% of employees in underrepresented groups — women, racial and ethnic minorities, and LGBTQ employees — do not feel they’ve personally benefited from their companies’ diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs. As many executives re-examined their organizations’ diversity and inclusion initiatives, they discovered a reinvention was in order. Offering precision medicine through health benefits is an action that employees can see and feel, helping the organization deliver on the promise of diversity and inclusivity.
Being intentional with culture is key—not only in how every employee at every level behaves but also from the organization’s side. It includes removing process and policy barriers or sludge that gets in the way of the culture that your strategy requires. Inclusive culture ensures that all team members are:
- Treated equitably,
- Feel a sense of belonging and value, and
- Have the resources and support they need to achieve their full potential.
Precision medicine helps close the gap between good intentions and actions
Let’s start with a bit of background: did you know that over 95 percent of people have genetic variations affecting their tolerance of medication therapy? Therefore, we all respond differently to medications and their dosages. Finding the right medication can be a real trial and error process: it takes time and often involves negative side effects.
Sometimes called pharmacogenomics, pharmacogenetics, or PGx for short — they all refer to a form of precision medicine that assesses the fit of medication and dosage to an individual’s genetics. Pillcheck’s PGx service is a form of personalized or precision medicine helping people avoid prescriptions that won’t work or have a high risk of side effects based on their genetics.
Historical biases in traditional pharmaceutical research
Most widely used medications have been around for decades, but unfortunately, pharmaceutical development programs and prescribing practices tend to carry certain baggage from the past. A well-designed PGx solution helps to overcome racial and ethnic biases inherent in traditional medical treatment regimens.
Genetic variation exists on a spectrum
There are two main reasons why prescribers might inadvertently ignore our biological diversity: First, genetic variation across geographic regions is continuous, like the colour spectrum. Second, medical guidelines and algorithms regularly use race to influence clinical decisions. But race, however defined, is a very poor proxy for biology. Simply put, ignoring genetics when treatment strategies are advised tends to only reinforce historical biases. A lot of these biases come to us from clinical trials that have been conducted without taking genetic variation into account.
Assumptions about the “average” patient
Conventional randomized clinical trials are the gold standard in pharmaceutical development. The trials compare treatment effectiveness for enrolled individuals and assume that it can be generalized to the proverbial “average” patient. However, the information obtained from these trials may not always be useful for selecting the best treatment for an actual patient, especially if the trial did not include a diverse population. But with Pillcheck’s broad genetic sensitivity, we provide accurate genetic-based prescribing recommendations rather than rely on these averages that may or may not apply to you as an individual.
Why is pharmacogenetics (PGx) important in routine medicine?
The majority of medicine happens in primary care. Recent studies in both the US and UK suggest that over 60% of patients in primary care are prescribed a medication with a PGx recommendation. PGx analysis automatically reflects each person’s unique genetic profile and clinical application of the genetic variation on drug response.
“With Pillcheck PGx insights, healthcare practitioners can take more of a holistic view of the person by recognizing their unique genetic identity while devising an optimal treatment path.” – Dr. Boyko Kabakchiev, CTO, Pillcheck
Pillcheck PGx designed for benefits plans and their members
Retention is all about understanding your team’s needs — not just as a manager or colleague, but as a person. By embedding a precision medicine program in your benefits plan, you take a specific step towards ensuring that your multi-ethnic workforce directly benefits from the company’s health programs by acknowledging the diversity of medical needs and supporting access to equitable treatment options. Plus, plan sponsors save money which otherwise gets wasted on the medications that don’t work for individual plan members. And, when individuals’ workplace experiences are driven by inclusive leadership, the result is a culture shift— a powerful transformation.
The addition of a Pillcheck PGx program in a plan is a meaningful contribution to plan members’ health and the organization’s DEI goals. Pillcheck analysis automatically reflects each person’s unique genetic profile and how they respond to medications. It does not diagnose or assess the risk of disease or identify ancestry. It only predicts response to medications. But Pillcheck is more than just a genetic test: it combines DNA analysis with a medication review by expert pharmacists. All data is stored in Canada, and it’s completely private, confidential, and portable. The service has been used widely since 2017 to shorten the duration and incidence of disability claims and is expanding accessibility through extended health benefits and preferred pricing plans.