August 24, 2017

Pharmacogenetics to provide personalized approach to mental health treatment

Sun Life Financial partnering with Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and Assurex Health to help Clients and their physicians find effective medication sooner

TORONTO, Aug. 24, 2017 /CNW/ - Medication can be an important part of the treatment of a mental illness, but finding the right one at the right dose can take time and may cause harmful side effects. To help Clients and their physicians find an effective medication sooner, Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada ("Sun Life") is partnering with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and Assurex Health, a wholly owned subsidiary of Myriad Genetics, Inc., to join their IMPACT study.

The IMPACT study uses saliva to determine how an individual will respond to mental health medications. This is also known as pharmacogenetics, which can lead to faster and more effective mental health treatment. At least 500,000 Canadians miss work each week due to a mental health problem1 and mental health problems and illnesses account for more than $6 billion in lost productivity costs due to absenteeism and presenteeism2.

"Pharmacogenetics is a groundbreaking approach to mental health treatment," said Marilee Mark, Vice-President, Product and Integrated Health Solutions, Group Benefits, Sun Life Financial Canada. "We're pleased to offer our Clients access to effective medications to help them manage their condition and return to work sooner. Participating in the IMPACT Study also allows us to deliver innovative solutions to our Clients."

Led by Dr. James Kennedy of CAMH's Tanenbaum Centre for Pharmacogenetics, with the use of Assurex Health's GeneSight testing technology, study participants can have their saliva analyzed to identify genetic variants that can influence how they respond to 33 of the most commonly used mental health medications.

A report is sent to the participant's physician highlighting the results:

  • Green - this medication is expected to work best;
  • Yellow - dosage levels may need adjusting before use; and
  • Red - use with caution.


"Nearly 9,000 people have participated in the IMPACT study, and those with depression experienced a 27 per cent reduction in the severity of depression symptoms after eight weeks of gene-guided treatment," said Dr. Kennedy. "Personalized medicine has great potential to support people in returning to work and participating in other meaningful activities in their lives, which is important in maintaining mental health." 

"We are excited to support this study and evaluate the ability of GeneSight to improve care for patients with depression and anxiety," said Bryan Dechario, Ph.D., Chief Medical and Scientific Officer, Assurex Health. "In prior studies, GeneSight-guided therapy resulted in up to 70 per cent improvement in depressive symptoms compared to treatment as usual, while reducing healthcare expenses by up to $5,000."

Sun Life Clients on an approved mental health-related disability claim, who are also taking medication as part of their treatment plan, will have the opportunity to join the study and benefit from the pharmacogenetics testing process.

This partnership reinforces Sun Life's commitment to mental health awareness and support in the workplace. In 2016, Sun Life increased coverage for psychology benefits for employees from $1,200 to $12,000 per person, annually and expanded the list of eligible mental-health practitioners employees and their families could use.

With a focus on delivering innovative solutions to Clients, Sun Life Financial Group Benefits is the winner of the Group Insurance Providers category in Canadian HR Reporter's 2017 Readers' Choice Awards. This is the second year in a row Sun Life has received this honour.

Group Benefits are offered by Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada, a member of the Sun Life Financial group of companies.

1 Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, "Mental Health and Addiction: Facts and Statistics." 2015
2 Mental Health Commission of Canada, "Making the Case for Investing in Mental Health." 2013

About Sun Life Financial
Sun Life Financial is a leading international financial services organization providing a diverse range of insurance, wealth and asset management solutions to individuals and corporate Clients. Sun Life Financial has operations in a number of markets worldwide, including Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Japan, Indonesia, India, China, Australia, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia and Bermuda. As of June 30, 2017, Sun Life Financial had total assets under management of $944 billion. For more information please visit

Sun Life Financial Inc. trades on the Toronto (TSX), New York (NYSE) and Philippine (PSE) stock exchanges under the ticker symbol SLF.

Note to Editors: All figures in Canadian dollars except as otherwise noted. 

Media relations contact:
Gannon Loftus
Sun Life Financial
T. 416-979-6345

Sean O'Malley
Media Relations, CAMH
T. 416-595-6015

Ron Rogers
Assurex Health
T. (+1) 801-584-3065

SOURCE Sun Life Financial Canada