The DNA samples will be used to take the guesswork out of handing out prescriptions and help GPs choose drugs that will be effective without causing side effects.
Dr Alina Roser, who will be piloting the new technique, said: “This form of medicine could not only save millions in NHS money but extend lives and improve quality of life for patients. It signals a new dawn in precision medicine.”
Patients with asthma, depression or high cholesterol will be the first to be treated under the pioneering scheme, which will be launched in East Anglia next month.
If successful it could be extended to scores of other conditions. Research shows checking a patient’s genes to establish their likely response to certain drugs – known as pharma cogenetic testing – will allow doctors to choose the precise dose and avoid treatments likely to cause side effects.
Dr Roser, a GP who specialises in genomic medicine at the University of Cambridge and who will be working with patients with depression, said: “I am very excited by this. This form of testing will help revolutionise how we can treat patients using more targeted therapies.
“It will improve the safety and effectiveness of medicines, moving medicine into a new era away from the one-size-fits-all, trial and error approach we currently use.”
She added: “For example, it can take up to four months to get the right treatment for depression and sometimes patients tend to lose hope during this time, putting them at higher risk of suicide. This would mean we could quickly find the drug which they will respond to best.”
Dr Roser believes the project could help pave the way to a future of personalised medicine in which patients could visit a pharmacist for a simple test and receive a bespoke treatment for their complaint. She said: “This is my vision.”
The project, which is being funded by the Government-backed Eastern Academic Health Science Network, will initially involve two regions. In Cambridgeshire it will include up to 10 GP surgeries and about 200 patients.
It will begin by focusing on improved prescribing of antidepressants and drugs for familial hypercholesterolemia, an inherited high-cholesterol con dition. The other region, north-east Essex, will focus on children with asthma.
This will involve setting up a test to establish their responses to steroid drugs in an effort to avoid prescribing the powerful medication unnecessarily.
Victoria Corbishley, of the Eastern Academic Health Science Network, said: “We are very excited about this work which will see a more personalised medicine brought into the family surgery.
“This could save lives and improve the quality of lives, helping people live with conditions with fewer side effects. Ultimately, this will also save money in NHS treatment costs and reduce lost school days and work days.”
Research shows between 30 and 60 per cent of drugs may not work effectively because every patient reacts to them differently.
Genetic profiling has already been used in hospitals to help doctors choose the best treatment for cancer patients. However, this will be the first time such tests have been introduced in the GP’s surgery.
Those who absorb the drugs slowly are likely to suffer more side effects while others might not respond at all because their bodies break down the drug too quickly.