Personalised medicines: hopes and realities

21 September 2005

Personalised medicines; tailoring drug treatments to a persons genetic profile, also known as pharmacogenetics, have a promising future. However it will be another 15-20 years before their use is widespread. The field is still in its infancy but understanding how genetic factors influence a persons response to a drug could make new and existing treatments safer and more effective.

Clinicians and pharmaceutical companies will continue to favour drugs that work well regardless of genetic differences, but where this is not possible pharmacogenetic medicines, with an associated diagnostic test, will increasingly play an important role. Currently it seems likely that the most rapid progress will be made in the field of cancer, where a few products already exist.

According to the report, large scale clinical trials are needed to assess the cost-effectiveness of developing and using pharmacogenetic therapies and investment needs to come from both the public and private sectors. For new drugs, these trials will be conducted by the pharmaceutical industry, but for existing medicines, studies should be encouraged by Government funding in public-private partnerships between medical research charities, the Department of Health and the pharmaceutical and diagnostic industries.

Questions must also be addressed on whether healthcare systems in the UK have the resources to implement such technologies. Doctors, nurses and pharmacists will require a much stronger basic training in fundamental human genetics, as well as guidance on how to offer and interpret key tests.