New research has found that millions of patients could benefit from genetic screening before being prescribed common medicines.

The research, led by the University of East Anglia (UEA) in collaboration with academics at Boots UK and Leiden University in the Netherlands, considered 2019 NHS dispensing data to determine how many patients started new prescriptions each year.

The researchers found that for medicines where there are known drug-gene interactions, including antidepressants, antibiotics, stomach ulcer treatments and painkillers, in 21.1% occasions there was a potential for genetic screening.

In addition, they discovered that if this screening had been applied to all new prescriptions, an estimated one in 11 would have led to a change of drug or dose – impacting more than five million dispensed items.

This is because, depending on the results of individual pharmacogenetic tests, individuals may either be given a higher or lower starting dose, or be more closely monitored during the early treatment stages following screening.

“These results show that around four million patients annually in the UK could benefit from having this new technology,” said Essra Youssef, research pharmacist, School of Pharmacy, UEA.

Better selection of medicines based on a patient’s genetic information could mean less side-effects and better treatment outcomes. This not only benefits the patient but also the NHS, as patients may not need to return to their GP so often to change their medication,” she added.