On the verge of personalized medicine

April 1, 2007

The day is fast approaching when doctors will be able to use genetic or molecular tests to personalize patients' pharmacological regimens. "Today, we are seeing the first applications (of genetic technology)," Robert Field, chairman of the health policy and public health department at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, told The Wall Street Journal (2/14/2007). "I think 5 years from now, certainly 10 years from now, this will indeed dominate medicine."

The day is fast approaching when doctors will be able to use genetic or molecular tests to personalize patients' pharmacological regimens. "Today, we are seeing the first applications (of genetic technology)," Robert Field, chairman of the health policy and public health department at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, told The Wall Street Journal (2/14/2007). "I think 5 years from now, certainly 10 years from now, this will indeed dominate medicine."

Already, there are personalized medications on the market-such as Genentech's Herceptin for breast cancer treatment and Novartis AG's Gleevec for leukemia treatment. In addition, a collaborative study-by Medco Health Solutions, Inc., and the Mayo Clinic-is under way to determine whether genetic testing can help "eliminate the life-threatening and costly complications" of warfarin.

Proponents of personalized medicine believe that such advances will make medicine safer, less costly, and more efficient. The promise of personalized medicine is that physicians would be able to customize therapies to fit a patient's genetic profile, determine appropriate medication dosages, and reduce harmful side effects, among other things. However, there are several issues that still need to be worked out: The technology raises several questions around insurance coverage for new diagnostic tests and therapies, regulatory standards, and privacy issues for patients.