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GPs slam Superdrug home genetics test kit

£124.99 test kit banned in US goes on sale on UK high streets

Mark Gould

Thursday, 02 April 2015

High street pharmacy chain Superdrug has come under attack from GPs and campaign groups for stocking genetic self testing kits. The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) says that it is "extremely worried” by the sale of the saliva test kits which went on sale priced £124.99 in the chain's 600 stores this week.

RCGP chair Dr Maureen Baker said that around one in ten of patients in general practice has a genetic disorder and GPs play a key role in identifying families with conditions such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, then helping them manage their condition.

"We fear that this scheme will only cause people unnecessary worry and anxiety. We would also discourage patients from paying out significant amounts of money for tests that, if appropriate, are available free on the NHS.”

Dr Baker fears the move could have huge implications for GP workload: "At a time when we have a severe shortage of GPs and family doctors are already struggling to care for rising numbers of patients with increasingly complex diseases, it is difficult to see how we will be able to deal with the extra volume of people that this initiative will undoubtedly encourage to visit their GP surgery for routine check-ups."

“Taking and considering a genetic family history is a key skill that is best left to medical professionals, who can also provide the necessary support and advice to patients in a private and confidential environment", she added.

And the campaign group Genewatch has described Superdrug as "acting irresponsibly" and urged a boycott of the kit, sold by US company 23andMe, which has been refused a licence in the US.

"23andMe's gene tests are banned in the United States because the evidence for the health claims that they make has not been confirmed" said Genewatch director Dr Helen Wallace. Superdrug is acting irresponsibly by selling unregulated gene tests with no medical involvement.”

23andMe is currently banned from selling health related genetic tests in the United States, as the company was unable to provide convincing scientific evidence to back up its health-related claims.

Dr Wallace says that in the UK, only the safety of the tube used to collect people's DNA - which holds a sample of the person's saliva - and laboratory quality assurance are currently regulated. "This means that there is no independent check of the claims a company makes about an individual's genetic risk of developing diseases."

A new draft EU law which would require companies to provide scientific evidence for claims, and restrict or ban sales of genetic tests directly to consumers is still under negotiation between EU member states. Dr Wallace says that this means there is currently no regulation in the UK to prevent consumers being misled about their health by commercial gene test companies.

"Superdrug have jumped the gun by selling tests before new gene test regulation has been finalised" said Dr Wallace. “Once proper regulation has been introduced, some or all of the genetic tests they are now selling will be withdrawn from the market, due to poor science or lack of medical involvement".

23andMe says that it provides "affordable access to personal genetic information, allowing people to explore more about their health and ancestry.” The service includes information on genes associated with certain inherited conditions such as Cystic Fibrosis or Sickle Cell Anaemia, and genetic risk factors for certain diseases or conditions such as blood clotting, Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease.

In addition to learning about your health, 23andMe says the test allows customers to "learn more about the genetics behind certain traits, like whether or not you may be a more frequent smoker, how you metabolise caffeine and how your body may respond to diet and exercise.”

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