St Vincent’s Pharmacogenomics Research Secures $2.95 Million in Federal Funding

St Vincent’s Pharmacogenomics Research Secures $2.95 Million in Federal Funding

27 May 2020

A groundbreaking genomic research project led by Dr Kathy Wu and the St Vincent’s Clinical Genomics Unit exploring pharmagenomics secured $2.95 million as part of the Commonwealth Government’s $20 million additional funding for mental health announced yesterday.

Pharamagenomics examines each person’s specific genetic profile that affects a person’s response to certain drugs. Pharmacogenomics testing can inform tailored prescription, giving the right medication at the right dose to the right patient.

While psychological strategies are usually the first-line in treatment of mental illness, medications can be an important part of a treatment plan, with almost 10 per cent of Australians now regularly taking antidepressants.

However, current pharmacotherapy is based on a trial-and-error approach, and a significant number of people do not respond positively to their first prescription. Studies have also shown that if these patients don’t respond to their first medication, the chance of achieving remission is diminished with each trail-and-error iteration.

The St Vincent’s project, which is a multicentred double-blinded randomised controlled trial will trial genotype-guided versus standard psychotropic therapy in moderately-to-severely depressed patients. The $2.95 million in funding will come from the Medical Research Future Fund’s Emerging Priorities and Consumer Driven Research initiative.

“This project will be Australia’s first non-biased, double-blinded, randomised controlled trial, between pharmacogenomics-guided intervention group versus unguided treatment-as-usual control group, with built-in comprehensive economic evaluation,” said Dr Kathy Wu, Director of the Clinical Genomics Unit at St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney.

The trial aims to recruit 550 adult patients newly diagnosed with moderate-severe Major Depressive Disorder, combining new (pharmacogenomics) and emerging (neuroimaging biomarkers) technology with large-scale data, in a novel Deep Learning application, aiming to refine existing tests and enhance precision of psychotropic therapy in depression treatment. 

By partnering with public & private health services, digital health organisations and consumer advocacy groups, the project has potential to change practice, as well as to develop clinical guidelines and a user-friendly pharmacogenomics support tool.

“What particularly excites us about the project is that we’ve been able to bring together a wide range of expertise, including senior researchers, clinical trialists, clinicians, health economists, population health genomicists, across public and private sectors, as well as consumer advocacy groups, to inform the planning, development, and execution of this project, with a vision to build a value for money and patient-centred mental health service,” said Dr Wu.   

In acknowledging the importance of this project, A/Prof Anthony Schembri, CEO St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney said, “This funding is so well deserved, and I am particularly proud as the project represents the absolute embodiment of two of our key-strategic priorities on the St Vincent’s Campus; the extraordinary potential of genomics and precision healthcare as well as supporting this often vulnerable patient population. I’m sure I’m not alone in hoping that Kathy and her project team are highly successful in their pursuits.”