Geneticure- a startup with close ties to Rochester, Minnesota- created a panel of genes involved in hypertension to support decision making processes for clinicians and to control the disease faster for patients.
Seventy-eight million Americans, or every one in three, are afflicted with high blood pressure. Five million new diagnoses spring up every year. Over fifty percent of the US hypertension population, or thirty-seven million people, do not have the disease under control, often because they are taking the wrong medications.
The current guidelines, or standard of care, for treating hypertension targets three systems: the kidneys, the blood vessels, and the heart to inhibit sodium reabsorption, induce vasodilation, or reduce total cardiac output. According to the standard of care, every patient presenting with hypertension begins treatment with the same drug, usually a diuretic. The drug is slowly titrated up until the maximum tolerable dose is reached.
If the first round of drug treatment does not control the hypertension, a second drug class is added without taking the patient off the first drug and the titration process is repeated. If blood pressure levels still remain uncontrolled, a third class of drugs will be added into the regiment.
This process is a very long and frustrating road to controlling hypertension, lasting up to twelve to fifteen months and adding unnecessary costs to the healthcare system. Even with complete medication compliance, 40% of hypertension patients do not have their condition under control due to this trial-and-error process.
Geneticure aims to disrupt this paradigm of treatment and control hypertension faster than the standard of care by providing a more personalized, individual approach to hypertension treament.
The company has “identified and patented a unique panel of genes that are fundamental causal factors behind the disease and the corresponding responses that the patient could expect based on these various classes of drugs,” explains Geneticure Co-Founder and President Scott Snyder. He thinks that Geneticure can slash the time for controlling hypertension down to two to six weeks.
“We’re eliminating those unnecessary office visits. We’re eliminating unnecessary prescriptions. But also we’re getting one of the deadliest diseases in the US under control quite a bit quicker. […] The risk factors of heart disease, stroke, and heart attack go through the roof when you don’t control the disease,” Snyder explains.
The Geneticure team designed a post-diagnosis product to help clinicians make more informed decisions to treat and manage hypertension patients.
The startup focuses on pharmacogenetics- or how an individual’s DNA affects their metabolism and response to certain drugs. They created and patented a panel of genes involved in hypertension regulation. Genes included in the panel were curated from over twelve thousand peer-reviewed manuscripts. The presence of certain alleles- or variant forms of the same gene with slightly different DNA sequences- of these genes correlate with a particular response to drug treatment.
To begin the Geneticure testing process, hypertension patients have a sample of DNA taken right in their doctor’s office. The Geneticure DNA collection kit comes in a clean, freshly designed box with the inscription “say ahh…” on the inside thanks to Snyder’s extensive Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) background. The kit contains two buccal cheek swabs for painless, non-invasive DNA collection. After the sample is taken, it’s lysed in two small vials, which are bar coded to protect patient identity. The samples are then shipped off to the CLIA (Clinical Laboratory Improvement and Amendments of 1988) certified lab at the University of Arizona (UA).
Once at the lab, the DNA is extracted and the Geneticure proprietary assay run. A report of the findings is returned to the clinician with the patient’s genotype- the DNA sequence at these targeted alleles- and the predicted patient response to drug therapy, including the literature supporting the recommended drug treatment.
For example, if a patient has the genotype, or alleles, EE for hypertension gene LSN, Geneticure would know that gene LSN relates to blood vessel function and might predict that a vasodilator be the first line of defense in controlling this particular patient’s hypertension.
The Geneticure team is stacked with three National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded scientists who know a thing or two about cardiology and genetics. The company was begun by the Snyder brothers, President Scott Snyder and Chief Operating Officer Eric Snyder. The latter Snyder performed his thesis work in cardiology at Mayo Clinic in Rochester and then went on to UA, where he collaborated with genetics expert and now Geneticure Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Ryan Sprissler. Sprissler runs the UA Genetics Core Facility and receives all the Geneticure DNA samples. The fourth co-founder and Chief Clinical Officer, Dr. Tom Olson, serves as Assistant Professor of Medicine and Consulting in Cardiovascular Diseases at Mayo Clinic.
Late last year, the team added a second business man to the team, Ben Bowman. Bowman has an extensive background in startup development and was the Founding CEO of General Blood, a company that optimized the human donated blood market.
The group launched a retrospective stage phase one clinical trial early last year to demonstrate the efficacy of the gene panel in directing hypertension treatment and found quite a bit of success.
“…we were more than twice as good as the standard of care in predicting that first drug class that was successful,” explains Snyder. In one particular case, Geneticure would have controlled a hypertension patient nine months faster than the standard of care.
Geneticure also thinks they can improve patient therapy compliance “by providing a personalized medication solution. […] [Patients] are going to be more likely to take that drug if they know it was a solution that was developed for them,” explains Snyder.
Snyder predicts, “Without question, at some point in the future, your doctor will not prescribe a drug for hypertension without you taking our test.”