Tailor-Made Medicine


Hey, golf fans, did you see the ads for the new TaylorMade golf club featured during the recent Ryder Cup a few weeks ago? TaylorMade claims to outsell and outperform the #2 and #3 golf clubs. Golf clubs are not the only thing with a “tailor-made” brand. Today, medicine is heading that direction. Drugs are being developed to best suit your particular genetic makeup, part of the trend towards “personalized medicine.”

This area of medicine is more formally known as pharmacogenomics. It is a relatively new area of medicine that has many doctors and researchers quite excited. Doctors know that medications do not work in a “one-size-fits-all” prescription. For a small subset of their patients, some drugs don’t work or even cause severe side effects. Why? Some experts think the unusual reactions are explained by differences in DNA. To eliminate the risk of side effects, and the “hit or miss” approach to effectiveness, why not match a drug to your body? Doctors hope to one day match prescriptions to the patient’s genetic profile.

Personalized drugs could be more powerful, and cause less damage to healthy tissue. They can also speed the healing process, by enabling doctors to use the right drug the first time around.[1]

So far, pharmacogenomics has had the most benefit for cancer patients. Tumors can be genetically tested to determine which chemotherapy might be the most effective for that patient. Researchers could even decide that chemotherapy is not necessary.

This new field of medicine is exciting, but we need to ask a few questions.

First, can we afford tailor-made drugs? Personalized medicine is very expensive and not all insurance companies cover the costs. Genetically-tailored medications can cost thousands of dollars for just a one-month supply. For now, it looks like personalized medicine might only be available to the wealthy.

Second, will personalized medicine narrow the options for patients? If there are only one or two drugs for a disease, and the patient’s DNA is incompatible, they might not have an alternative. Pharmaceutical companies naturally want to develop drugs that can be marketed to the greatest number of people to maximize profit. Because of this, many fear that ethnic minorities with less common genotypes and people with rare diseases will be overlooked because of the huge cost of bringing a drug to market.

Third, how much attention and funding should be invested in personalized drugs? We need to determine if the pursuit of genetically-based medicine is the best use of our medical resources, especially when we know that some groups of people need basic healthcare now, and other won’t benefit from personalized medicine.

As Christians we know that we are to give special care to the sick. Personalized genomic medicine has the potential to help many patients receive better treatment with fewer side effects. It may even revolutionize medicine as we know it. Let’s just make sure that “tailor-made” medicine is available to all who need it.

[1] For more information on Pharmacogenomics see National Human Genome Research Institute, "FAQ about Pharmacogenomics," available at http://www.genome.gov/27530645 (accessed October 20, 2010)


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