I’m delighted to announce my planned roll-out of a cutting-edge pharmacogenomics service, headed by highly esteemed Alitam pharmacist, and one of the field’s leading pioneers, Professor Mark Ledwidge (BSc Pharm, PhD, DBS, MPSI).

Such a futuristic, yet shortly implementable, service will help relieve pressure on hospitals and GP surgeries, and build a healthcare service which is focused on prevention, rather than reactive, and more costly – disease treatment. With waiting lists at an all-time high of 6 million people (and that’s just for routine operations and treatments), this could make a huge difference to everyone in the UK and Ireland regions.

So what is pharmacogenomics? It may not be part of the common vocabulary, but it’s a buzzword in the pharmacy and medical worlds.

Put simply, it’s a field of research that studies how a person’s genes affect how they respond to medications. And it’s yielding what are clearly crucial insights into disease treatment.

For instance, research shows that 40% of a person’s response to a drug is led by their genes. Additionally, research shows that one in five people are taking medication where there’s a significant drug-gene interaction. And between 7-20% of hospitalisations worldwide are due to adverse drug reactions.

Of course, pharmacists are already, by the nature of their job, well versed in drug-drug interactions (how one particular drug might react with another) and drug-disease interactions. What we’re looking at now, through the latest genomic sequencing, is how a drug will be processed by an individual: How will they metabolise it? Which dosage should we use? Which side effects are they likely to experience? Will the medicine work or not? We’ve all known for some time there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach to healthcare. This is the proof.

Bringing Mark Ledwidge into the Alitam fold was vitally important to me. Not only is he a highly respected community pharmacist in Cork, with an entrepreneurial and caring practice; he’s a man with enormous intelligence, academic pedigree and foresight. On first meeting we talked at length about his awareness of the need to support the NHS and HSE as they face enormous waiting lists, relieving the burden on secondary healthcare services where possible, and generally empowering people to be in better health. This is precisely the Alitam mandate; to deliver the kind of personalised, preventative healthcare through pharmacies which will increase life expectancy and quality of life throughout our communities.

I headhunted Mark Ledwidge based on his reputation as a leading professor in pharmacy medicine, and his prodigious knowledge of this burgeoning field of pharmacogenomics. I immediately knew pharmacogenomics was the perfect fit for Alitam pharmacies, that it would form a cornerstone of our Pharmacy of the Future concept.

By embracing pharmacogenomics, Alitam will be improving the health of the community in hitherto unexplored ways. Pharmacogenomics is underused: it’s employed in cancer care and psychiatry, and the regulatory bodies have an ever-growing watchlist of drugs checked for drug-gene interactions. However, the remit is so much wider. This is a new frontier for the pharmacy and medical community.

I believe that within five years, patients will walk into pharmacies, hand over a script and ask their pharmacist to look up their genome and check for drug interactions. Think of the pain and suffering that can be avoided this way, not to mention the huge numbers of needless hospital admissions. And, it also brings the patient more empowerment, which is something very dear to my heart. You and your family will be pre-armed with knowledge about your own suitability for certain treatments. In an emergency situation this can be life-saving.

Because we are the ‘Pharmacy of the Future’ pharmacogenomics is just one part of my ambitious plan to bring a range of health services under the same roof. This will be delivered in state-of-the-art wellness and medical centres we’ve dubbed high street ‘Super Pharmacies’ and ‘Alitam Advanced Community Pharmacies’.

I envisage these ‘Super Pharmacies’ appearing on high streets in the next two to three years, with the first flagship stores planned to be opened in Dublin, Belfast, London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Newcastle, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

The concept involves a slow and gradual build, part of a ten year vision. The creation of Super Pharmacies is a multi-billion-pound investment project, and a significant number of private equity companies, large ones, have approached me to look at investing in the model.

For now, Alitam is immediately focused on utilising the clinical skills of trusted community pharmacists, who are introducing more GP-type services instore. By becoming Independent Prescribers, our clinically able pharmacists, who often treat three generations of the same family – can efficiently diagnose and treat many minor ailments such as sore throats, run clinical diabetes checks, for example, and provide repeat prescriptions.

This frees up GPs to focus on patients presenting with more complex issues. And it drastically reduces waiting times for patients who, otherwise, may face worsening conditions. In fact, our research shows that these waiting lists can be reduced by as much as 50% if the skills of community pharmacists are fully utilised.

I’m sure you’ll agree that Alitam could not be launching its preventative healthcare services at a better time. In this post-pandemic world, people are acutely aware of their health, desirous to take what steps they can to improve their wellbeing and prevent disease, highly aware that our healthcare systems are not fit for purpose.

Alitam is offering a ‘one stop health shop’ which will cater to everyone in the family, all at once. Highly regulated clinical and wellbeing services will be accessible in a convenient location, with people you trust. The people of the UK and Ireland deserve this, our amazing healthcare professionals deserve this, and the economy will benefit from the upsurge in health in workers. While the pharmacogenomics service is in the pipeline for Alitam pharmacies, in the short term services such as GP-style consultations (using an instore Independent Prescriber) will be offered, at pace, in key locations throughout the UK and Ireland. Watch out for an announcement about these new clinical services in pharmacies on March 22nd 2022.

However I predict that pharmacogenomics will be the word on everyone’s lips, very soon.