Sunil Kochhar, consultant pharmacist and IP at Regent Pharmacy in Gravesend, tells Saša Janković about offering genetic testing for hair loss

Service type: Hair loss testing and treatment

Name and location of pharmacy: Regent Pharmacy, Gravesend, Kent

Name of pharmacist: Sunil Kochhar

When did you start offering this service? September 2020

Why did you start offering this service?

Around 80% of men and 40% of women experience androgenic alopecia (pattern baldness/hair loss) during their lifetime, so hair loss is a common issue. However, because the cause of hair loss is unique to every individual, there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all treatment, so people may try lots of solutions and spend a lot of time and money before they find what works for them. We know that there is a direct relationship between a person’s genetic profile and lifestyle, and the effectiveness of treatment, so by analysing their DNA the Fagron TrichoTest can reveal what is contributing to their hair loss, and I can offer them lifestyle advice and – as an IP – recommend and prescribe the most suitable hair loss treatments that may help.

What, if any, training did you or other team members have to undergo?

I can use my IP skills to prescribe the personalised hair serums for this service, but in December I realised there was still a bit of a training gap for prescribers as each hair serum we suggest as a treatment for patients using the TrichoTest service is an individual formula specifically tailored and prescribed for them, which needs to be made up as a special. I spoke to an insurance company and then wrote a training module designed for prescribers who can then be insured for prescribing these personalised hair serums, and I now deliver this training to other prescribers myself so they can ensure patient safety and follow the right protocols.

In a nutshell, what does the service involve?

The process starts with an initial consultation where we take a swab from the inside of the patient’s mouth to obtain a DNA sample. They will be asked to complete a questionnaire to determine a number of lifestyle factors, e.g. age, height, weight and medication etc.

We send that to Fagron’s laboratories, where they analyse a total of 48 genetic variations – 3 polymorphisms within 16 DNA mutations (SNPs or Single-nucleotide polymorphism). These DNA variations show the specific characteristics of a person’s genetic coding and lifestyle factors which are contributing to their hair loss, and the lab sends these results back to us within 14 days so we can put together a personalised treatment plan for the patient.

The patient will then come to see us for a second appointment to talk through their results and how they relate to their hair loss. We will also explain how we’ve chosen the most suitable option for their personalised prescription, and that they need to be compliant for at least six months before they could expect to see results.

Are there any opportunities to sell OTC or prescription products during or after the consultation?

Depending on the results, you may also be able to recommend additional products or services that can help, particularly if the patient needs or wants to consider additional lifestyle changes such as losing weight or stopping smoking. The DNA test also recommends the correct supplementation for hair growth that is best for that individual.

How have patients responded to the service?

We had a customer in her mid-20s who noticed her hair was thinning, and then it rapidly got worse and began to fall out in big clumps. She came into the pharmacy as her GP had recommended Regaine, so we talked to her about the TrichoTest service and she decided to try it. Once we had the results back we recommended collagen supplements, along with a serum to put on the scalp every day and then wash out.

Interestingly, the test results also listed several treatment options that wouldn’t work for her based on her genetic history – one of them being Regaine. She started our treatment plan in January and found she had very fast growth results in a pretty short space of time, and she told us 'It feels like I’ve got a full head of hair again'.

Roughly how often each month do you carry out the service?

So far I look after 20 patients who I have enrolled on the service myself, and I also act as the ‘remote prescriber’ for some trichologists who do the DNA testing part but cannot prescribe the serums themselves.

How much do you charge for the service?

The cost to us to buy each DNA test is £130, and the recommended retail price to the customer is £275 for the two initial consultations, and then – depending on the ingredients in the serum formulation – the prescription costs the patient an average of £80 a month.

Roughly how much a month do you make from offering the service?

Because the genetic results will not change during a person’s life and hairloss is ongoing there’s continual maintenance for the patient to keep up with. If they keep up with the treatment you will be seeing them about once a month for a repeat prescription, which is around £80 a month for them with a profit for you of about 50%.

Would you recommend offering this service to other contractors?

Yes, definitely. Being able to work out which treatment is most likely to work can save patients time and money, and help relieve some of the anguish they may feel after having tried a product or treatment that simply isn’t working for them.

From a service perspective, every pharmacy can do the DNA testing and if they don’t have a prescriber they can refer on to us and we will arrange the prescription and they will get a kick back from us for that referral. If you are an IP then doing the hair loss training can help you establish a new income from delivering a hair loss clinics.

Prescribers who want to train can email Sunil for details.