DNA test could prove if COVID-19 treatments work
Exclusive: A DNA test could help identify people who will have adverse reactions to drugs being trialled against COVID-19.
The Australian company is pushing for its kits to be urgently included in coronavirus clinical trials - including one by the Peter Doherty Institute at more than 70 hospitals nationally involving the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine and HIV drug Kaletra.
There is also scope for whole genome testing of Australians who have had COVID-19 to see if genetics can explain why some people have the virus more severely than others.
MyDNA said a test it developed to find the best antidepressant for a patient and understand how the body reacts to 100 other medications could give some insight into how a person's body would process the malaria and HIV drugs.
These drugs can cause major health risks including heart damage, blindness and even death in some people.
Hyrdroxychloroquine has been in high demand after US President Donald Trump suggested it could be a cure for COVID-19.
MyDNA's Professor Les Sheffield said hydroxychloroquine stays in the body for a long time, has a half-life of 40-50 days and the amount in the blood varies up to 10 times in different people.
Both hydroxychloroquine and Kaletra are processed by the same metabolic pathways in the liver as other medications covered by the company's test.
The genes probed by myDNA's multigene pharmacogenomic test measures if these pathways are working normally or not, he said.
Understanding a person's natural level of these enzymes may explain why these drugs are more effective in some people and which people are at risk of eye or heart damage, he said.
The company has asked Health Minister Greg Hunt for funding for the test to be used in conjunction with the ASCOT trial.
Chief executive officer of myDNA Lior Rauchberger said at the moment doctors were "flying by the seat of their pants" as they tried to find ways of treating COVID-19
"The thematics for us is that genetics can inform clinical decision making," he said.
Australian Medical Association spokesman Dr Chris Moy said the DNA test may be "one of several ducks" researchers needed to get in a row as they tried to find a treatment for COVID-19.
"Everyone has a slightly different way of breaking down medications and when you get a result from the test it will tell you if the drug is more likely to be retained in the body … if you don't break it down it could be more toxic," he said.
"It may be helpful in making decision," he said.
If the project is funded the company hopes to develop a biobank that may help explain why some patients become severely ill and others experience only mild forms of disease.
"We've put the proposal to the health minister and we've offered the test to the ASCOT trial and we've talked to them and they are supportive of it," Professor Sheffield said.
The myDNA test costs between $90 and $150.
Mr Rauchberger said it was unclear how many patients could be at risk of severe side effects from the experimental drugs and the purpose of the genetic test would be to learn that information from the trial.
Some US experts have been critical of the utility of myDNA's test as it relates to how antidepressants affect people.
A study last year published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research found only some patients who had the test had improvements in their symptoms after switching drugs.
Originally published as DNA test could prove if COVID-19 treatments work