NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 29, 2005

The widespread use of personalized medications based on the genetic profiles of patients is still 15 to 20 years away, say observers. The field, known as pharmacogenetics, has made strides in the battle against certain cancers and shows great promise in improving efficacy, reducing adverse reactions of drugs and limiting medical costs.

However, a report by Britain's Royal Society, an independent academy of leading scientists, says more research into the genetics of complex diseases, DNA testing, international guidelines and investment are needed before targeted therapies will be widely available.

Other findings:

  • The development of personalized medicines is being hampered by a lack of knowledge among healthcare professionals of the relevant science and a shortage of researchers who have specialized in the areas required to carry out pharmacogenetic research.
  • Incentives should be introduced at the national and European level to encourage pharmaceutical companies to work on developing pharmacogenetic drugs with relatively small potential markets.

Sir David Weatherall, chair of the Royal Society working group, says personalized medicines show promise but they have undoubtedly been over-hyped. With the human genome sequenced, some people are expecting personalized medicines within a few years, but the reality is still many years away.

The researchers say the onus will be on the governments to fund or provide incentives for carrying out tests on off-patent drugs. Weatherall says it represents a major problem because the tests would need to be done on a drug-by-drug basis. Regardless, Weatherall believes we need to lay the groundwork now if we are ever to realize the potential of personalized medicines.

Source: Reuters, "Targeted Medicines are Far Off," Boston Globe, September 26, 2005; Royal Society News Stories, "Medicines Personalized to Patients Still Decades Away," Royal Society, September 21, 2005; and "Personalized Medicines: Hopes and Realities," Royal Society (London), September 2005.

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