Would you like tailored treatment?One in ten people get no relief from the painkiller codeine. We don't all respond to a medicine in the same way, or require the same dose. This is because of differences in some of our gene instructions for the proteins that break down drugs in our bodies. Scientists are trying to identify these genes, so that in the future, doctors may be able to predict reactions to a medicine. They may then be able to tailor treatment accordingly.
Why do some people react badly?
Pharmacogenomics, sometimes called personalised medicine, is the study of genetic variations that lead to people having different responses to drugs. It provides the possibility of treatment that would be specifically tailored to you, taking into account how your body would metabolise the drug and how effective the drug will be in treating your particular condition. There are already drugs to treat breast cancer and a type of leukaemia that only work for patients with a certain genetic profile.
What is the history of pharmacogenomics?
Pharmacogenomics was borne out of three independent findings in the 1950s. First, studies of African-American soldiers who had developed anaemia after taking an antimalarial drug were found to be deficient in a particular enzyme. This inherited deficiency was later found to affect 400 million people worldwide. Second, it was found that people who received a drug to treat tuberculosis either metabolised it quickly or slowly. This rate was found to be genetically determined. Third, it was found that patients who experienced prolonged effects of the anaesthetic succinylcholine had inherited an unusual form of an enzyme.
What is the future for pharmacogenomics?
Scientists are hopeful that further development of pharmacogenomics will result in more powerful medicines that are safer and produce fewer unpleasant side effects. It may also mean people can be screened more accurately for diseases and provide us with better vaccines.