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This report was originally published in Science Progress.
There are promising developments heralding the arrival of personalized medicine, a new medical field where the results of genetic tests or other biomarker assessments are used to tailor drugs and treatments to individual patients. A year ago, for example, the Food and Drug Administration approved maraviroc, the first drug designed specifically for HIV patients who have a particular genetic mutation of the virus. This was the first time a drug had been approved upon the condition that patients first have a genetic test. Similarly, in July scientists at the Van Andel Research Institute published a paper reporting that high expression of the gene known as MET increases the aggressiveness of certain types of breast cancer. This means that the MET gene can be used as a target for new cancer therapies that may inhibit MET’s expression, thereby slowing down the most aggressive forms of breast cancer.
In spite of this kind of progress on the scientific front, Americans today remain guinea pigs in a “one-size-fits-all” approach to medicine in which clinical trials to test the safety and efficacy of new drugs do not take into account the influence of individual genes on individual health and wellness. In contrast, a personalized medicine approach may well allow (perhaps in the not too distant future) every individual patient to receive the best in tailor-made, evidence-based pharmocogenomic medicine.
Similarly, research, development, and clinical care in our health care system merely ensure that medical treatments will work for most of the population most of the time. In fact, most drugs prescribed today only work in 60 percent of patients or less. Personalized medicine promises that treatments will be tailored to individuals by researching the effects of specifically tailored treatments on genetic subpopulations. Since one size does not fit all, personalized medicine will represent a marked improvement over the current system where patients are left to travel down a winding path of physician-led trial and error.
Compounding the unwieldiness of today’s haphazard clinical approach is the disjointed health care informatics system that prevents scientists and physicians from making the most of our nation’s personalized genomics research data. Our impersonal and uncoordinated approach to care costs lives and squanders billions of dollars that could go towards insuring the 45 million Americans who are without coverage while also bringing down costs.
In short, we are awash in evidence that not all individuals will respond similarly to the same medical treatment. But we have not taken the steps to integrate personalized medicine fully into our health care system in order to benefit individuals and society alike.
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