Little Rock Firm Blazes Its Own PGx Testing Path

Used to be, "personalized medicine" meant one's family doctor remembering the names of the kids.

But personalized medicine has grown to encompass so much more. Now it refers to the tailoring of health care to a specific patients' DNA profile.

Doctors use this practice, called pharmacogenetics (PGx), to help determine how individuals metabolize and respond to certain drugs and treatments. Two Innovate Arkansas client firms are helping them do just that: Pathagility, the Conway software firm that collects and reports data for medical labs, and Arkansas Genomics of Little Rock.

AG is one of those labs for which Pathagility provides data. The parent company for Sigma Molecular Diagnostics and Diamond Clear Diagnostics, AG performs the PGx tests that enable doctors to truly make health care personal. Sigma handles testing related to Medicaid cases, while Diamond Clear handles all others.

"Our PGx tests help identify how a patient responds or doesn't respond based on his or her DNA profile," said AG's managing member and DNA analyst Jimmy Threet.

AG is the only company in the state that provides PGx testing. It focuses on testing for medical drugs related to pain, mental health and heart health. Founded as one of just 41 privately owned DNA forensics labs in the country, Threet pivoted to the PGx market in 2013. 

All that's required for PGx testing is a non-invasive cheek swab from which a DNA profile is obtained.

"This allows doctors to tailor medications and dosages according to how the individual metabolizes prescribed medications," Threet said. "The fact is that medications that work for some people may not work for others. Differences in genetic makeup result in differences in how patients respond to medications."

In addition to its PGx testing services, AG provides respiratory panel services to aid in the diagnosis and treatment of upper respiratory tract infections. These are performed on an FDA-approved film array platform, Threet said, and identify 17 viral and three bacterial pathogens.

"The advantage of this test verses commonly used 'rapid screening' tests is that this test is diagnostic with both high sensitivity and specificity, and can detect co-existing pathogens," he said.

Threet said the test also can determine if an infection is viral or bacterial.

"This is important because it allows the doctor to make a more informed decision as to prescribe antibiotics or not," he said. "If a single target assay test is performed and the result proves to be a viral source, the doctor will not prescribe antibiotics. However, if our assay is used, the ability to detect co-existing pathogens may reveal that a bacterial target is also present. Then the doctor could prescribe antibiotics for the bacterial source which otherwise would have been missed using the common single target rapid screening test."

A turnaround time of only about an hour is all that's needed for respiratory testing associated with common infections such as RSV and influenza, while PGx testing can require seven to 10 days for results. Plus, AG's courier service will pick up samples and provide all necessary supplies for the test to the requesting clinic.

Beginning in June, AG expects to offer FDA-approved gastrointestinal panel testing that can identify 23 targets for common GI pathogens including viruses, bacteria and protozoa that cause infectious diarrhea, Threet said.

The turnaround time for the GI testing also will be about an hour, he said.