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This Gainesville company uses genetics to make sure your prescriptions work for you
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Dan Laflamme, left, helps Brunie White, Briana Quezada and others Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019, at Pro-Genex learn how to process samples at the Brenau University Business Incubator. - photo by Scott Rogers

Robbie Rupard, CEO of Pro-GeneX in Gainesville, believes that one size does not fit all and there is no magic button in health care.

After establishing his company more than four years ago, Rupard and Brett Grauss, CEO of Pro-GeneX Laboratories, have worked together to cut down on a patient’s number of medications and reduce adverse drug events.

“Our approach to the testing business (is) we’re not a pharmacogenomics company, we’re a risk management company that uses a variety of tools to solve problems,” Rupard said.

Grauss said during the past decade the field of pharmacogenomics — the study of how genes affect a person’s response to drugs — has boomed because of advancements in science.

Instead of undergoing the trial-and-error method of figuring out which medications work best, many pharmacogenomics companies analyze a patient’s DNA to determine an individualized treatment.

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DNA samples are prepared for testing Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019, at Pro-Genex inside the Brenau University Business Incubator. The company has developed a pharmacogenetic test to help patients and doctors receive more personalized health care especially in prescribing medicines. - photo by Scott Rogers
How it started

This growth was what first caught the eye of Rupard more than four years ago.

After leaving a health care company, and considering going back to the aviation field, Rupard was introduced to pharmacogenomics.

“Because this is the science of how genes impact the way medications work in a person’s body, I thought, ‘Wow, that’s cool,’” Rupard said.

Like most people, he had experiences with doctors prescribing him medications that seemed to have no effect despite the dosage. Knowing people respond differently to medications, he found himself drawn to the business perspective of the pharmacogenomics.

Partnering with PharMerica, Pro-GeneX has devoted most of its services to long-term care facilities.

Grauss said the company works with 270 long-term care facilities across the country, monitoring medications for 32,000 patients.

In its laboratory at the Brenau University Business Incubator at 999 Chestnut St. in Gainesville, Pro-GeneX takes people’s cheek swab samples and transforms the DNA into a personalized genetic profile.

With a lab on Brenau’s East Campus, Rupard said his company plans to get more involved with the school’s students through offering coursework and internships.

Pro-GeneX is also in the works of creating programs relating to opiod addiction, cancer genomics and nutrigenomics.  

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Chris Thompson reads a bottle of liquid before taking a sample Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019, at Pro-Genex at the Brenau University Business Incubator. The company has developed a pharmacogenetic test to help patients and doctors receive more personalized health care. - photo by Scott Rogers
Personalized digital report

Rupard and Grauss said what makes Pro-GeneX stand out from other gene testing companies, is their simplified digital report.

Pro-GenX partnered with 21Medtech, a medical technologies company, to develop a program that takes a person’s genetic profile and gives a list of medications that work for that specific patient.

Rupard describes the program as a live data feed relationship between the pharmacy and a genomics dashboard that provides real-time reporting.

Patients and their providers can access the program to see if certain medications match well with their DNA, or have potential side effects.

The software displays different categories with listed medications people shouldn’t use, those to take with caution, standard drugs, those best suited for the patient and alternative drugs.

Rupard said in most cases with pharmacogenetics companies, physicians receive a 15-20 page report about how a person’s genes interact with certain medications.

With the Pro-GeneX report, he said doctors have an easier time interpreting the information as opposed to weeding through a long printed report.

“It’s brand new every time you look at it relative to the current medication list, your genetic profile and to the body of knowledge,” Rupard said. “Now we have a dynamic report instead of a static report. Because it’s all digital, we’re capable to push it into any system, whether Walgreens or an electronic health record.”

In the next 60 days, he said the program will be available via mobile app.

Even if someone is not in a long-term care facility that works with Pro-GeneX, people can still receive their own gene profile through the company.

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Blake Grauss draws a sample of liquid Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019, at the Pro-Genex lab at the Brenau University Business incubator. - photo by Scott Rogers
From cheek swab to computer

Rupard said all of the cell collection is done at Pro-GeneX’s lab in Gainesville, where they take a person’s privacy and security very seriously.

Everyone’s genetic information is private and protected through the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.

The company collects people’s DNA through a swab, which is rubbed for 30 seconds against the inside of their cheek.

The samples are mixed with a solution, then transferred into plates which go into the KingFisher instrument. Grauss said this machine collects the DNA and RNA, then goes through a series of rinses to obtain pure DNA.

Once the DNA is separated and purified, he said it is put into an incubator. The samples then are placed in a thermocycler, which copies and replicates the DNA.

The next part of the process involves the QuantStudio, which reads the genes. Based on the alleles, or variance of genes, Grauss said Pro-GeneX’s team is able to determine how a patient metabolizes certain drugs.

The price for the test and program is $199.

“They have data they can use for the rest of their lives,” Rupard said. “We feel like we’re doing an awful lot to minimize adverse drug effects and we’re taking the content of the report and turning it into context.”

Once the company receives a person’s genetic file, they send it to Translational Software in Seattle, who completes the genetic interpretation and provides a digital report for Pro-GeneX’s online program.

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Pro-Genex employees learn about processing DNA samples Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019, at the Brenau University Business Incubator. - photo by Scott Rogers
Growing impact on health care

Since offering its services to long-term health care facilities across the country, physicians have started taking advantage of Pro-GeneX’s report program.

Dr. Bradley Ward, a certified medical director with Floyd Healthcare Medical of more than 30 long-term health care facilities in Georgia, said he has been using the company’s program for nearly three years.

Compared to other pharmacogenomics businesses, he said Pro-GeneX offers a simpler and more efficient report for physicians.

“For example, some of the other genetic testing companies I’ve seen reports from, they would give you the chemistry of it,” Ward said. “But, most physicians are not trained in genetics, so they don’t know what to do with the report.”

Ward said the overload of information deters physicians from taking the time to look through the long reports.

With Pro-GeneX’s program, he said the reports are more user friendly and simple from a formatting standpoint.

When Ward introduced the program to the physicians at his facilities, he said they were skeptical at first.

“We were told that one day there will be personalized medicine, and were promised for 20 years now,” he said. “We’re now realizing this is real and very helpful.”

Ward said many of the residents at his nursing homes are on 10-15 different medications. Through having the genetic testing from Pro-GeneX, he said they are able to cut down on their intake.

Historically Ward said physicians have put patients on a particular medication and hoped for the best. If it didn’t work, they would increase the dosage, take them off or choose an alternative medication in the same chemical class.

“Well now with Robbie’s program, we now have information so we don’t have to do trial and error,” he said. “We go straight to the appropriate medication. That’s the big advantage.”

For more information about Pro-GeneX visit www.pro-genex.com or call 844-794-3637.

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Pro-Genex Senior VP of Business Development Brett Grauss inspects a new piece of equipment inside the company's lab at the Brenau University Business Incubator Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. The company has developed a pharmacogenetic test to help patients and doctors receive more personalized health care especially in prescribing optimal medications. - photo by Scott Rogers
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