The most prescribed drugs in the US are statins. They’re cholesterol lowering drugs and are constantly advertised on TV as Crestor, Lipitor and Zocor.
These drugs work by inhibiting a protein called HMG-CoA reductase to help prevent heart attack and stroke. Though they save lives, the side effects are significant for some people.
They risk memory loss, elevation of blood sugar which could lead to type 2 diabetes, and muscle weakness that can lead to permanent muscle damage.
Despite these challenges, doctors argue the benefit of statins are greater, so how should people manage their risk? This is where personalized or precision medicine can make a difference.
Studies have identified a gene called SLCo1B as a cause of statin myopathy or muscle weakness. The gene produces a key protein that metabolizes statins in our bodies. But people with variants of this gene end up with altered proteins.
Three variants of the gene are now known. About a quarter of people have one variant making them five times more likely to develop muscle weakness when they take a statin. Two percent of Americans have another variant that ups their risk to seventeen percent.
Now a simple approach is used to help them. They’re given lower doses of an alternative statin drug. So knowing your genetic profile can be key to finding the right treatment or drugs.
A simple test costing just one-hundred dollars can identify whether you have the variant costing just one to two hundred dollars. Insurance companies are now evaluating large sets of data to see if the test is worth paying for. Our guess is they’ll conclude the tests are a preventative that can save them millions of dollars.