How genetics could impact COVID-19 treatments


In recent months, a number of drugs have been investigated to treat COVID-19[feminine[feminine without any security or well-established data to back up these claims. However, some of these unproven therapies may have underlying genetic reasons for not being effective and leading to fatal side effects, as has been found with hydroxychloroquine.

Pamala Jacobson and Melanie Nicol, faculties at the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy, and Takuto Takahashi, Pediatric Hematology / Oncology Fellow, recently published a peer-reviewed study in Genomic medicine of nature on how individualization with pharmacogenomics – the study of how genes affect a person’s response to drugs – can improve the effectiveness and safety of these drugs.

“The application of pharmacogenomic testing can help rule out fatal hypersensitivity for patients prescribed certain drugs,” Jacobson said. “We asked the question whether selecting a COVID-19 drug or dose using an individual’s genetic information could improve efficacy or safety.”

“One of the biggest successes in the use of pharmacogenomics is the treatment of HIV, abacavir,” said Nicol. “What is now a standard test for a potential treatment for people living with HIV and has virtually eliminated the fatal hypersensitivity associated with this drug.”

The study reviewed a variety of literature on drug therapies for COVID-19 – including hydroxychloroquine, rivier remedy, tocilizumab, and steroids – on PubMed. The researchers found that:

  • there are several genetic variants that alter the way an individual’s body metabolizes and processes COVID-19 therapies and may increase the risk of side effects;
  • that the risk of taking these therapies is complex since patients with COVID-19 typically take several other medications and have underlying conditions that affect the medication;
  • and data for pharmacogenomics on COVID-19 are limited due to the early stages of clinical trials of treatments.

“Although we have not found direct evidence to support the use of pharmacogenomic testing for COVID-19, we have identified many workable genetic markers that may promise to improve efficacy and safety,” said Jacobson . “Clinical studies in patients with COVID-19 are needed before we can recommend routine testing.”

Reference: “Pharmacogenomics of COVID-19 Therapies” by Takuto Takahashi, Jasmine A. Luzum, Melanie R. Nicol and Pamala A. Jacobson, August 18, 2020, npj genomic medicine.
DOI: 10.1038 / s41525-020-00143-y

Nicol was funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (K08AI134262) and Jacobson was funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (R01AI140303).


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