Biotech company makes gene-based testing more accessible to SA consumers

Next Biosciences, a leading local biotech company, is expanding its’ direct-to-consumer (DTC) lifestyle genetic testing offering that will enable South Africans to take personal ownership of their health, and by doing so, reduce their risk of disease.

Kim Hulett, Founder of Next Biosciences, says lifestyle genetic testing and screening are the future of medicine.

“These tests are evidence-based DNA tests that look at specific genetic markers within multiple areas of health i.e., nutrition, exercise, sleep, environmental exposures and other lifestyle factors, that contribute to the development of lifestyle-related diseases. Test results uncover a person’s unique biochemistry, predispositions and interactions with environmental and lifestyle factors to predict inherent susceptibilities that will help to get people started on their longevity health journey by guiding them in making choices that can extend their health span and lead to a healthier and happier life.”

This October marks the launch of PharmaGene – a new pharmacogenomics test by Next Biosciences that will help to make individualised precision medicine possible.

No longer will doctors have to go through a process of trial and error when it comes to scripting medicine. PharmaGene will provide tailormade patient prescription according to their genes, medication and lifestyle – saving patients time and money by bypassing the trial-and-error phase.

Dr Yvonne Holt, Next Biosciences Medical Director, explains: “Since your genes remain the same throughout your life, PharmaGene is a once-off test that will provide you with insight into your medical care.

“Different to other pharmacogenomic tests currently available, PharmaGene, provides access to a live online portal, which a health practitioner can use to adjust a patient’s regimen in real time to achieve the lowest risk score possible based on a patient’s genes, medication and lifestyle. The portal automatically updates as more medication and pharmacogenomic data becomes available making this test valid throughout a patient’s life. This portal also allows specialists to streamline their regimens to ensure there are no contraindications between a patient’s doctors if they are seeing more than one.”

She says PharmaGene provides personalised medicine to patients from a holistic perspective. “It’s not only your genes that affect your medication, but your lifestyle and environment as well. PharmaGene takes your current lifestyle and environment into consideration and analyses how this affects the medication you take. This is especially relevant for people who are on multiple medication and is beneficial for children as well, in that you can establish an optimal dosage based on your child’s genetics, while eliminating those that are toxic. The ideal would be for everyone to one day have a pharmacogenomics test done after they are born.”

Dr Holt emphasises that pharmacogenomics tests will not only reduce healthcare costs and save time, but offers a new level of patient centricity. “Medicine of today is still largely based on a one-size-fits all model, where patients diagnosed with the same condition are often prescribed the same medication and dose. This approach can lead to preventable adverse medicine reactions, reduced efficacy and non-compliance due to intolerance and increased healthcare costs.

“Variations in these genes can cause medication to become toxic in our body or have no efficacy at all depending on what the variation is. PharmaGene finds the best possible regimen for every patient by analysing more than 13 000 medications at different dosages, as well as contraindications between medicines and lifestyle indications to produce an expansive treatment plan tailored to each patient. The test will substantially reduce the risk of adverse and even fatal reactions to medication.”

Gut microbiome tests, like Viome – another lifestyle test offered by Next Biosciences – are also becoming more popular. It provides a snapshot of your gut health at a specific moment in time and helps individuals to improve their overall health through personalised nutrition based on their biology. Your gut is home to trillions of bacteria, fungi and other microbes known as your gut microbiome, which has a significant impact on your health – affecting digestion, weight, skin, sleep and mental clarity.

The test requires a stool sample, which is then packaged and sent for testing. The results are released straight to a downloadable app, which can be accessed on the Apple App and Google Play stores.

Based on the results, Viome provides personalised food and supplement recommendations that can make remarkable improvements to your overall health. It can be done by anyone who are curious to know more about their gut health or by someone suffering from irritable bowel syndrome, chronic bloating and gas, discomfort in the gut, chronic diarrhoea or constipation.

For prominent US entrepreneur and philanthropist, Naveen Jain, who is also the founder and CEO of Viome Life Sciences, his number one goal is to create a disease-free world – wherein personalised, precision medicine plays a key role.

“Being able to provide personalised, precise recommendations to patients through early diagnosis and/or supplements is where modern medicine should be headed. Lifestyle testing should be the first step in everyone’s longevity health journey – providing individuals with insights to lead a healthier life for longer and allowing one to take preventative measures early on. Without personalised testing and being informed, it really is just navigating in the dark,” says Jain.

3X4 genetic testing also forms part of Next Biosciences’ longevity health offering. Dr Yael Joffe, a globally recognised expert in nutrigenomics and personalised nutrition, has been instrumental in shaping the 3X4 genetic testing platform.

She says personalised health is the future of medicine, and genetics play a pivotal role in this paradigm shift. “By analysing an individual’s genetic makeup, we can provide targeted recommendations that align with their unique needs, ultimately leading to enhanced well-being and longevity.

“3X4 genetic testing harnesses cutting-edge genomic technology to analyse an individual’s DNA, unlocking a wealth of information related to cardiovascular health, nutrient absorption, energy and activity potential. The results translate into actionable insights that guide individuals toward personalised lifestyle choices, empowering them to take charge of their health journey,” says Dr Joffe.

The 3×4 genetic test involves a simple cheek swab. A kit gets delivered to the client directly and once the cheek swab is done, the sample is collected and sent to the lab for testing. As this is a healthcare practitioner referred test, the results get released straight to the practitioner’s portal, who will then advise on treatment and manage the progress thereafter.

While most medical aids do not currently cover DTC genetic tests, Dr Holt says it’s starting to play an integral role in holistic healthcare, which providers can no longer ignore.

“Medical aids can take advantage of the data by encouraging members to employ targeted preventive measures. This could potentially reduce the overall healthcare costs for insurers in the long run by preventing or mitigating the impact of certain illnesses. Furthermore, with genetic information, medical aids can tailor treatment plans to each individual’s unique genetic makeup. This personalised approach may lead to more effective treatments, reducing trial-and-error in medication and again, lowering healthcare expenses associated with unsuccessful treatments.

PharmaGene, 3X4 Genetics and Viome pricing ranges between R3 500 to R6 900 per test. Whilst this may seem pricey, the actionable insights gained from this testing and benefits to your health, are priceless.

“By utilising gene testing and prioritising preventative care, we are able to enhance people’s healthspan, enabling them to enjoy an extended period of vitality and wellness,” concludes Dr Holt.



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