Research Excellence

Personalizing drug prescriptions

Dr. Corey Nislow Photo credit Paul Joseph
Dr. Corey Nislow. Photo: Paul Joseph


Within everyone’s DNA lie clues that can help guide us to which drugs will be safest and most effective for treating illnesses that affect millions of Canadians—everything from cancer to heart disease to mental illness. Many regularly prescribed medications and harmful reactions to drug combinations are influenced by the particulars of your genetic make-up, or genome. While the science behind this field of “pharmacogenomics” has long been available in laboratories, it has yet to reach the front lines of health care where it can benefit everyone: community pharmacies.

The UBC Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences has been working to translate genomics research into community pharmacies for health and wellness for the last 10 to 15 years. This vision is becoming a reality thanks to the generous donations of UBC’s partners during the start an evolution campaign. The UBC Sequencing Centre was established in 2013, and a $250,000 investment from the BC College of Pharmacists allowed researchers to lay the groundwork to bring pharmacogenomics into pharmacy practice. These efforts led to the $400,000 “Genomics for Precision Drug Therapy in the Community Pharmacy” project, the first of its kind in North America, funded equally by the BC Pharmacy Association (BCPhA) and the Genome BC User Partnership Program (UPP).

Currently completing Phase I, the project is led by the Canada Research Chair in Translational Genomics, Dr. Corey Nislow, along with Dr. Ron Reid, Mark Kunzli and the team at UBC’s Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences. Working closely with the BC Pharmacy Association and highly motivated pharmacists throughout the province, the UBC team has developed a framework for participating community pharmacists to engage, educate, and recruit volunteer patients to provide a sample that can be analyzed using rapid, inexpensive, next-generation sequencing (NGS).

“This first phase of the project serves as the foundation for an important and much needed commercialization effort, which is exactly how we envisage Genome BC’s User Partnership Program working,” says Dr. Brad Popovich, ‎Genomic Health Strategy Consultant and former Chief Scientific Officer, Genome BC. “Partnering with end-users and people who will be implementing this research is a key component of translational research.”

A key challenge this project has addressed is developing a streamlined, efficient means to capture, assess, and deliver genetic information, while ensuring the highest standards of data security and privacy. Phase I focused on education and sample collection from consenting patients for genetic analysis. Phase II will apply the lessons learned to begin offering patients the opportunity to provide their genetic information to guide therapeutic dosing decisions within a broader base of community pharmacies. The research team hopes that by empowering pharmacists to use data from a patient’s genome, this information can be used one day soon to make Canadians healthier.

In January of 2015, in an interview with Stuart McNish, Dr. Nislow boldly predicted that this was the year that “genomics gets real.” If this groundbreaking project is any indication, the prospects for democratizing genomics in health care look bright.