Encouraging Precision Medicine Though Genetic CertaintyBy Miriam Bello | Tue, 10/06/2020 - 16:31
Q: How is Genetics & Health boosting the impact and reach of its products?
A: We are focusing our efforts on refund services because we know that our products mostly are paid out of pocket. In some cases, pharma companies assume the cost because the results from genetic testing helps them determine if a patient is the appropriate candidate to participate in a certain trial.
We have realized that pharmaceutical companies are the only option for patients to get a refund on their genetic tests. There are associations that help patients finance the test. However, the government and insurance companies offer few options for this service, which ends up limiting people’s access to these tests.
There are patients who can be greatly benefit from these alternatives like in the case of Parkinson’s disease, which requires a timely diagnosis. Many diseases are caused by genetic mutations, making it more difficult to register and identify, which can also create barriers for treatment. We had a case of muscular dystrophia in Jalisco were the patient had an uncertain diagnosis. Thanks to collaboration that involved fundraising, family and friends’ support and our own financial support, we were able to deliver a precise diagnosis on the child’s case, which was a rare muscular dystrophia that has been only identified twice worldwide. We currently know about 6,000 genetic diseases, but we have about 23,000 genes, meaning that we have a great area of opportunity in this field to not only create treatments for patients with known diseases but also to discover new diseases and to create a treatment for them. If we involve the insurance sector, it is obvious that many companies will not be willing to pay for an unknown disease. It is the same case with the government. Social security covers only a certain number of diseases, leaving the rest without a treatment or even a certain diagnosis.
Some of our efforts this year have focused on working with the government to include genetic testing in its offering. We are not trying to introduce highly sophisticated testing that we know they will not be able to cover, which could limit the approach or management of a patient condition. To begin somewhere, we have worked on areas where we know the government has the ability to allocate budget, such as diabetes or cancer. This year, we were conducting a study with 100 patients that we hope can resume soon as it was put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We intend to show the government how genetic testing can greatly contribute to cost savings. Inside the government, there are institutes that do ask for genetic testing, for example SEDENA or PEMEX. However, we are looking to make this option available for everyone.
Q: How has COVID-19 impacted demand for your products?
A: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we experienced an impact on our presential medical consultations. Responding to the new needs of the population, we introduced products that help diagnose COVID-19. As a result of this diversification, we have already transformed some areas within our facility to serve as patient management areas for hospitals that were turned into COVID-19 facilities. We decided that it was smart to incorporate COVID-19 products as a parallel line to our regular services to avoid business disruption. Our regular services did drop by 70 percent, meaning that our yearly goals changed. We have many doctors who had to reschedule their consultations and others who had to adapt to telemedicine consultations, which has limited our regular product sales. We are sure that by the end of the year, our sales will recover because of the new normality, which is already leading to an increase in our regular offer.
Q: How is Genetics & Health joining the digital transformation?
A: There is potential to do remote genetic testing so we are very open to integrating new technologies into the company to improve our performance. Also, offering the test on digital platforms can lead to a huge boost in sales, just as we saw last year when a genetic test was being sold through Amazon to determine ancestral heritage.
Genetics & Health had not dabbled into online sales previously because we have a true commitment to helping diagnose the patient. For example, 10 percent of cancers are hereditary and we do believe that all cancer patients should go through genetic testing just as international regulations recommend. However, there are companies that will encourage everyone to do so just because it means more sales. Unlike those companies, Genetics & Health has developed a service of consultancy for doctors and patients to determine if the latter is a candidate for genetic testing. This is not just an offshoot of our ethics code but a requirement in the international rules and standards for molecular genetic medicine.
Genetic test results need to be given with responsibility as they might determine a predisposition to a disease that will cause concern for the patient, even if they have little chance of developing that disease. The implementation of genomics must be overseen by an ethics committee. While there are diseases that might never develop, some diagnoses can propitiate a fatal outcome.
Q: What are your plans regarding portfolio diversification?
A: Aside from COVID-19 testing, Genetics & Health has been trying to incorporate more nutrition and lifestyle genetic testing to reach more markets. However, this is not our core business.
Q: What new products and services will Genetics & Health introduce to the market this year or next?
A: We are about to launch our Onco Precision product. This is a key product because refunds for oncology services are very large. This is a pharmacogenetic study that determines the metabolic profile of the patient, which lets us know how they will respond to oncological drugs, therefore contributing to the creation of precision medicine.
In 2018, Roche released a statement through SMEO explaining that oncological drugs can be potentially deadly for some patients with a certain genetic variation. With Onco Precision, a doctor can be certain of the drug and the quantity of medicine they can recommend based on the metabolic profile of the patient. There are cases when the patient has a slow metabolic profile, which means they will need a smaller dose to avoid complications. There are also cases of fast metabolic profiles who need larger doses to ensure the treatment’s effectiveness.
Onco Precision can significantly change the life of cancer patients as time is key for their survival. We are undertaking a clinical study with a hundred patients to test this product and introduce it to the General Health Council for approval. This development is ready to be launched in Colombia. However, the pandemic has also pushed this back. Our priority in Mexico and Colombia is to formally introduce Onco Precision to the market as soon as we are approved to do so.
Genetics & Health is a Mexican company that provides genetics tests to prevent, diagnose and treat diseases. The company works with leaders in the genetics area like CENTOGENE and GENYCA