Nate Wilbourne, Founder and CEO, Precision Genetics
Nate Wilbourne, Founder and CEOAmerican biologist James Watson and English physicist Francis Crick figured out the three-dimensional double helix structure of DNA in 1953. Ever since, there has been a constant effort to apply genetics more profoundly in the practice of medicine. Here we are, 68 years later, and it seems that the technological capacities of genetic testing are finally hitting it off on a grander scale.

Today, there are approximately 75,000 genetic tests available in the U.S. market, with about 10 new ones entering the market every day. Among them, genetic tests for pediatric and mental health disorders appear to be growing the fastest, followed by prenatal, cancer, hematology, and neurology tests. More importantly, with each passing day, pharmacogenetics— the study of how genes affect a person’s response to drugs—is gaining a stronger foothold in the practice of precision medicine. And all of this is happening at a much lower cost than before. Currently, the cost of genetic tests ranges between $100 to $2,000, depending on its nature and complexity.

The numbers indeed point toward a promising present—and future—of the healthcare landscape. But even with all these amazing advancements, the clinical utility of genetic testing slower pace. So, the visionary goal of making genetic testing a mandatory tool to drive better medical decisions is still a long road to traverse.

But, why?

Nate Wilbourne, founder and CEO of Precision Genetics, has the answer: “There are two fundamental flaws associated with how genetic testing is being leveraged in the healthcare domain today. One, genetic testing is not yet ingrained as a part of the standardized workflow in medical practice. And two, the reports generated from the tests are too complex for a physician to decipher and make a clinical decision.”

Elaborating on the two aspects, Wilbourne points out that time is of the essence in medical practice. Physicians have very limited time devoted to each patient. Hence, the patient-physician interactions need to follow a standard set of steps (where the workflow is automated at times) for ensuring optimal and effective delivery of care for all. But, as the healthcare domain is steadily shifting from standardized to personalized care, this standard workflow needs to add another crucial step: genetic testing, to make the care delivery more unique to an individual. Right now, ordering a genetic test is not considered a mandatory element of the care regime, and hence if a physician wants their patient to take a genetic test, they need to order it manually—making it an additional step in their usual workflow and accounting for extra time per patient. “If you have to ask someone to fill a requisition form to order a genetic test, you pretty much lost their interest right there,” says Wilbourne. It becomes highly inconvenient for a care provider to do it manually for every single patient.

Even if a physician does end up ordering a genetic test, the report generated is quite static. It is a complex mishmash of a patient’s genotype and phenotype data, which a physician is not usually trained to decipher. End result? Despite its apparent benefits, genetic testing is tossed aside in the name of inconvenience.

“Essentially, two things need to be done—automating the test ordering process and creating an intelligible data report that is comprehensible to the provider. Only then can a care provider potentially overcome the hurdles of using genetic information for the best interest of a patient. That is what drove us into this space and became the foundation of what we offer to healthcare providers,” explains Wilbourne, cementing the value proposition of his company, Precision Genetics.

Precision Genetics: Where Precision Healthcare Meets Genetics

Precision Genetics provides an ideal one-stop solution for physicians, clinicians, and other healthcare practitioners to support the clinical utility of genetic and medication risk stratification information to pave the way for modern healthcare.

The Role of Genetics in Mental Health

One of the critical focus areas of Precision Genetics, in that regard, is to help psychiatric practices (especially pediatric psychiatry) implement genetic testing so that they can design more personalized treatments for their patients’ mental and behavioral health disorders.

We want to look at a patient’s risks when going under anesthesia, intraoperatively as well as postoperatively. No clinical assay has ever been developed in such an expansive capacity, so I believe this endeavor of Precision Genetics is going to be revolutionary

Wilbourne elaborates with: “Right now, the industry gold standard is a particular pharmacogenetic test that helps a practitioner derive extensive medical evaluation reports to predict an individual’s response (or non-response) to treatment. Being in the market for a long time, the test is slowly becoming dated in the sense that it isn’t covering a broad spectrum of drug regimen and drug interactions, especially the newer ones.” As a result, it is leading to treatment inefficiencies. One prime setback is that a practitioner might not be able to assess if a new drug has chances of adverse effect on the patient or not, which is quite alarming since adverse drug reactions (ADR) is the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S., according to CDC.

This is precisely where Precision Genetics is trying to cement its cornerstone by offering a more comprehensive pharmacogenetic test. “We want to reduce any trial and error in mental health medication management by taking into account a wider range of mental health indications, drug interactions, and genes for patients of varying lifestyle, ethnicity, and age,” says Wilbourne. Rightly so, these competencies can be found in the company’s Precision Mental Health Rx Solution, Neuropharmagen pharmacogenetics test. The unique test can analyze a specific group of genes that involve in drug metabolism to assess the risk factors and efficacy for a broad range of antidepressants, antipsychotics, anxiolytics/hypnotics medications, stabilizers, and anticonvulsants used in the treatment of mental health conditions. Alongside, the report generated from the tests is provided as a series of detailed interpretations and recommendations for a provider to easily comprehend.

Tackling the Pandemic’s Accelerated Impact on Mental Health

Precision Genetics’ test is finding itself especially useful in the present scenario, where the COVID-19 pandemic has been causing major physical and psychological harm to millions. The trauma associated with the pandemic—alongside rampant on and off lockdowns—has been compounding the emotional burden of individuals, leading to growing mental health cases. Even scarier is the rising number of substance abuse cases. According to the CDC, there were around 88,000 drug overdose deaths in 2020, in the U.S. alone. In this dire situation, Precision Genetics is helping the medical community provide support in every way possible to create an environment where value-driven care is achievable in a timely, affordable manner.
A testament to this can be best reflected through a recent case study. A young female who was already going through mental health treatments found herself in a more challenging situation amid the pandemic, as shared by her practitioner. The pandemic increased her anxiety and depression, and despite the practitioner prescribing her a cocktail of medications, the outcome was not satisfactory. This was when the practitioner sought to take Precision Genetics’ help.

“Once we analyzed, we identified it was a metabolism issue that was driving a lot of sensitivity around her treatment. We immediately advised the practitioner to eliminate some classification of drugs that was impacting her metabolism. And that was enough to change the course of her mental health treatment altogether,” mentions Wilbourne. She is going through her apt medication and leading a much better life now.
  • We want to reduce any trial and error in mental health medication management by taking into account a wider range of mental health indications, drug interactions, and genes for patients of varying lifestyle, ethnicity, and age

This is but one instance; Wilbourne shares that there have been countless occasions where they have received calls from either the providers or the parents to tell them how much of a difference their solution has been making in their patient’s/child’s life. “And, I believe, that’s when our solution becomes really rewarding,” says Wilbourne, with a sense of accomplishment.

Spinning the Wheel of Future Healthcare

The next step for Precision Genetics is to tackle the adverse effects of opioids usage in the U.S. The misuse of and addiction to opioids— including prescription pain relievers and synthetic opioids—is a serious national crisis that is affecting public health as well as the social and economic welfare of the country. Realizing the gravity of the situation, Precision Genetics is now developing clinical assays to look at the risks of opioid usage in surgical suites. “We want to look at a patient’s risks when going under anesthesia, intraoperatively as well as postoperatively. No clinical assay has ever been developed in such an expansive capacity, so I believe this endeavor of Precision Genetics is going to be revolutionary,” states Wilbourne.

Having said that, Wilbourne also understands the need of the hour is proper COVID-19 measures. “While we are indeed invested in breaking new ground for genetics-led precision medicine, we are not oblivious to the present scenario. Until everyone is vaccinated globally, the danger isn’t averted; until then it’s all hands on deck.” That is why Precision Genetics is continuing to serve the medical community through a lot of PCR analysis and antigen testing. Alongside, Precision Genetics is currently representing the six largest health systems and several large corporations in the state of South Carolina, helping them implement genetic solutions to improve overall patient wellbeing in that region.

Treading on its path of progress, Precision Genetics will continue expanding its portfolio and build interactive tools that empower physicians to utilize patients’ molecular results to address individual risks and treatment pathways based on their unique genetics. As it continues on this blazing trail, there is no doubt that Precision Genetics will create a world of difference in the ‘precision healthcare’ domain.