Through its drug testing efforts, Gainesville’s Aeon Global Health has had a front-row seat to the opioid crisis in Hall County — and the nation.
“There’s this huge epidemic going on in this country ... and we’re basically the police between the pharmaceutical companies and the doctors,” said Sonny Roshan, the company’s founder and executive chairman.
“We give physicians the best information so they can make their clinical decisions based on ... what’s in the patient’s system, so, they can prescribe with confidence.”
The company at 2225 Centennial Drive began in 2011 with a handful of employees as a toxicology laboratory, helping doctors develop treatment plans for their patients based on the chemistry of their systems — from illegal drugs and alcohol to opioids.
“There are a lot of (drug test) positives that you see. It’s quite sad,” said Heather Morgan, the company’s toxicology lab manager.
Aeon since has expanded to include cutting-edge genetic testing, but the company’s early growth was fueled largely by the opioid epidemic.
“That’s why a lot of toxicology labs popped up, but many have fallen along the wayside because they remained only in toxicology,” said Tara Carney, the company’s marketing director. “In order to be diversified, we had to expand.”
Opioids, prescribed to relieve pain, are one of several drug classes covered in genetic testing.
Through a field known as pharmacogenomics, doctors can determine a patient’s response to certain drugs based on their DNA makeup. Other types of drugs covered in the test are those used to treat heart, gastrointestinal and mental health conditions, as well as diabetes and certain infections.
Roshan has firsthand experience with the testing.
After suffering a heart attack in 2004, he was put on “all kinds of medications,” he said. “From that point on, I was having a heart attack every 2«-3 years, and I could not figure out what was going on.”
When Roshan learned about pharmacogenomics, “I started implementing it here ... and was the first one to get the test done. I immediately found out that (the heart drug that was prescribed) was the culprit, so I could have been dead six times.
“I’m a living story (the testing) works,’” he said. “Our job is to raise awareness and educate the physician and the patient.”
Another area where the company uses genetics is in the area of hereditary cancer. Those of concern are breast, colorectal, central nervous system, thyroid, liver, pancreatic, prostate, ovarian, stomach, gastric, kidney, brain, duodenal and uterine cancers, as well as melanoma and leukemia.
A doctor may recommend the test if there’s a serious family history of the disease.
The testing got much publicity in 2013, when movie actress Angelina Jolie underwent a preventive double mastectomy after she learned she had genetic predisposition to breast cancer.
“You can easily get mammograms done every year, a colonoscopy done every year” said Jillian Quiett, Aeon’s genetic lab manager. “You don’t have to go the route Angelina took.”
People can’t drive up to Aeon and ask for a test to be done. Tests must be ordered by a doctor and are often covered by insurance.
“If there is no health insurance, a cash price can be provided upon request,” company literature says. “If the patient cannot pay for the testing, we can discuss additional options which may be available.”
Aeon has other services, including checking blood panels for routine wellness and testing for women’s health issues.
Having grown to some 100 employees and now a publicly traded company, Aeon is “exploring all options” in terms of expansion, Roshan said.
In the meantime, however, “we want to be very mindful of what we are doing and how we are doing it,” Roshan said. “Sometimes, expansions can be disaster.”
He added, “We feel very blessed and very proud to be (where) we are. We’re really helping lives, saving a lot of money and improving the standard of care.”