NextUp: The Navy Yard-Based Company Using Gene Analysis to Improve Medical Prescriptions
Precision medicine company Coriell Life Sciences is working to tailor treatment plans based on patients’ unique genetic makeups.
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Who: Since 1953, the Coriell Institute for Medical Research has been working to understand, prevent, and cure genetic disease through biomedical research. With a focus in biobanking, personalized medicine, and stem cell biology, in 2013 the Camden-based nonprofit created a for-profit spinoff — Coriell Life Sciences (CLS) — centered around interpretation and implementation of genomic information for strengthening prescription drug choices.
What: Headquartered in the Navy Yard, Coriell Life Sciences (CLS) is a precision medicine company using genetic science and research to better patient care and reduce health-care costs. More specifically, CLS helps health-care providers and pharmacists tailor treatment plans based on patients’ unique genetic makeups. To do so, the company utilizes pharmacogenomics (PGx) — the study of how genes affect an individual’s response to medication — and proprietary bioinformatics technology in order to help ensure patients are only taking medications that work for them, improve medication efficacy, and reduce potential toxicity.
What it means: According to the CLS team, successful treatment with many prescription medications is directly related to an individual’s DNA, as natural variation in genetic code can cause the same drug to produce different effects on people. In the United States, medication errors contribute to the number of health-care-related preventable deaths each year, and the cost of medication-association errors exceeds $40 billion. With the understanding that gene variations can account for why some medications work on certain patients and not on others, CLS is able to help speed patients’ return to good health while also minimizing the risks and costs associated with medication prescribing.
“By examining variations in DNA and assessing quantitatively whether or not certain medications will work for certain patients, we are able to turn gathered data into real-world insight,” says Scott Megill, president and CEO of CLS. “Our medication risk management program collects patients’ genetic information and guidelines from the FDA, CDC, and American Medical Association so that our pharmacy team can provide physicians a comprehensive view of what their patient needs based on factors like drug interactions, age-related factors, and lifestyle choices. Essentially, we at CLS want to ensure that the pills patients are taking are physiologically a ‘match’ for them.” In turn, Megill says, this reduces health-care costs because less money is being spent on pills that don’t work [for certain patients], which can often be a kind of trial-and-error prescribing process.
Why it matters now: As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, there has been an uptick in mood disorders, so much so that the number of prescriptions filled per week for antidepressant, anti-anxiety, and anti-insomnia medications increased 21 percent between mid-February and mid-March 2020. According to CLS, many of these drugs have strong pharmacogenomic impacts, meaning their efficacy is dependent on an individual’s DNA. Megill says CLS’s work is especially significant for that reason: because it helps reduce the time to treatment and any economic burden the health-care industry might face because of COVID-19.
Additionally, CLS launched a “Return-to-Operations” program that assists companies in determining how, who, and when to test for COVID-19. The program, which is founded on CLS’s interpretation and reporting informed by demographic data, lifestyle factors, and real-time modeling, allows employers to figure out when to reopen, understand which employees are most at risk, reduce the risk of business disruption, and create an action plan if someone tests positive.