Clinical laboratories may soon find opportunities to assist retail pharmacists who are doing genetic test counseling, as employers’ support of genetic testing advances

In another market example of acceptance of genetic tests by major employers, a new pilot program is underway by Kroger Prescription Plans that offers GeneSight by Myriad Genetics as a benefit. GeneSight is an LDT, a laboratory-developed pharmacogenomic test, used to treat psychiatric disorders, such as depression.

As part of the agreement with Myriad Genetics, Inc. (NASDAQ:MYGN), pharmacists at more than 2,300 Kroger stores will offer counseling about GeneSight to eligible employees and coordinate the testing with referring healthcare providers, according to a news release.

Clinical laboratory leaders and clinical pathologists will want to observe these early steps by Kroger to offer genetic tests and genetic test counseling in a retail pharmacy setting. If the GeneSight benefit option and in-store pharmacy interventions prove popular, Kroger Prescription Plans may soon offer other genetic tests, as well.

“Depression is a leading cause of disability and lost productivity in the United States, and only 40% of people reach remission after their first antidepressant medication,” Colleen Lindholz (above), President of Kroger Health, told the Cincinnati Business Courier. “We are committed to helping people combat this debilitating disease, and we’re proud to launch this pilot program. This test can help patients escape the frustrating process of trying multiple medications in the hopes of finding one that works.” (Photo copyright: EatingWell.)

Kroger Not the Only Pharmacy to Offer Genetic Tests and Counseling

Headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio, Kroger (NYSE:KR) is the largest supermarket chain in the US and the country’s fourth-largest employer. Kroger Prescription Plans—a pharmacy benefit manager (PBM)—provides pharmacy management services and clinical programs to employers, including Kroger, in 32 states. But it’s not the only pharmacy company to offer genetic tests and genetic counseling.

Last year Albertsons Companies and Genomind, a personalized medicine platform, launched Genecept Assay (now known as Professional PGx)—a genetic test designed to help doctors make informed treatment decisions for their mental health patients—as well as pharmacy-based genetic counseling at select Albertsons and its subsidiaries, according to Supermarket News.

Participating locations include:

  • 21 Sav-On pharmacies at Albertsons in Boise, Idaho;
  • Five Jewel-Osco pharmacies in the Chicago area; and
  • Two Sav-On pharmacies at Acme supermarkets in the Philadelphia area.

The Albertsons-Genomind partnership is aimed at patients who may be struggling with a medication for depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or other mental illnesses. Patients can receive counseling from “specially trained pharmacists” who work with referring clinicians to offer [Professional PGx], noted Supermarket News.

Pharmacists as Genetic Test Counselors?

Pathologists and medical laboratory leaders may be intrigued by the concept of putting pharmacists into the role of a genetic test counselor. However, pharmacists may need to increase their knowledge of pharmacogenomics, reported Drug Topics.

“The science advances in the field are just making it more critical that pharmacists have a really strong understanding of how to blend [pharmacogenomics] into their training,” Kathleen Jaeger, National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) Senior Vice President of Pharmacy Care and Patient Advocacy, told Drug Topics.

However, some see pharmacists as the natural experts in the space. “In my opinions, [pharmacists] should be the people who own pharmacogenetics. It’s a relatively new field, and who better than pharmacists to optimize drug therapy?” Daniel Dowd, PharmD, Vice President of Medical Affairs at Genomind, told Drug Topics.

Pharmacists will need to be proactive in working with companies that provide genetic testing, according to a Managed Health Care Connect Pharmacy Learning Network analysis, which also indicated billing for pharmacists’ informational services would need to be addressed.

“These opinions about this type of role for pharmacists will not be what pathologists want to hear,” stated Robert L. Michel, Editor-In-Chief of The Dark Report, Dark Daily’s sister publication. “Pathologists have had the role of the ‘doctor’s doctor’ for decades. Pathologists are trained in how to recognize disease, how to determine which medical laboratory tests are appropriate for the symptoms displayed by a patient, and how to interpret the results to select the best therapies.

“Additionally, pathologists are trained to understand the technical performance of clinical laboratory tests, such as whether the sample was of acceptable quality to produce a reliable result, whether the analyzer that produced a result was performing within specifications, and what factors should be considered in tandem with the lab test results when making a diagnosis,” he explained. “It is easy to see why the pathology profession would argue that pharmacists lack this depth of knowledge and experience when ordering and interpreting medical laboratory tests. How the pathology profession will respond to these developments involving pharmacists, interpretation of genetic test results, and counseling patients is not yet clear.”

Opportunities for Clinical Laboratories to Assist Pharmacies

This is not the first time Dark Daily has reported on genetic tests becoming popular as a corporate benefit. In “More Companies Pay for Employees to Have Genetic Tests in a Trend That Brings More Lab Test Volume to Medical Laboratories,” we predicted that genetic test coverage by companies would expand and possibly drive new sources of revenue through increased lab test volume.

Additionally, we suggested, clinical laboratory leaders and pathologists could find opportunities helping others understand the results of the genetic tests.

The recent partnerships between genetic test companies and corporate retail pharmacies suggest that clinical laboratories could benefit from reaching out to pharmacists who are now at a point-of-care and who may be looking to improve their knowledge of pharmacogenomics.

—Donna Marie Pocius

Related Information:

Myriad Announces Coverage Decision by Kroger Prescription Plans for GeneSight

GeneSight GUIDED Study Published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research

Myriad Pushing Ahead with Payers on GeneSight as Data from Large Randomized Study is Published

Impact of Pharmacogenomics on Clinical Outcomes in Major Depressive Disorder in the GUIDED Trial: A Large Patient-and-Rater-Blinded, Randomized, Controlled Study

Albertsons Cos Pharmacies Offer Genetic Testing

Pharmacogenomics and the Future of Pharmacy

Consumer Genetic Testing Pharmacogenomics, a Potential Opportunity for Pharmacists

More Companies Pay for Employees to Have Genetic Tests in a Trend that Brings More Test Volume to Medical Laboratories