The new word in designer drugs

BMJ 1998; 316 doi: (Published 27 June 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;316:1930

Pharmacogenomics is the new buzz word in biotechnology, Janice Hopkins Tanne reports from a conference looking at how pharmacogenomics could be used to develop more effective drugs

Pharmacogenomics means using human genetic variations to optimise drug discovery and development and patient treatment. Much more genetic variation exists than has previously been thought, and these variations in genes and their protein products can be exploited to develop safer, more effective drugs, according to speakers at a symposium on pharmacogenomics at Bio '98, the Biotechnology Industry Association's international meeting in New York last week.

“Humans carry variations in almost every gene, continuously distributed in peoples across the world,” said Dr Aravinda Chakravarti, professor of human genetics at Case Western Reserve Research University in Cleveland, Ohio. These genes affect drug absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion.

Although drugs are designed and prescribed on a population basis each patient is an individual. For example, up to 30% of patients do not respond to hydroxymethyl glutaryl coenzyme A (HMG CoA) reductase inhibitors (statins), up to 35% do not respond to ß blockers, and as many as 50% do not respond to tricyclic antidepressants, said Dr George Poste, chief science technology officer at SmithKline Beecham Pharmaceuticals in Pennsylvania.

Knowing whether a patient will respond is important so that the best treatment can be given straight away and because of the high …

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