Science Fiction Comes to Life

November 28, 2007

In my teens I was a great science fiction fan, particularly the ‘golden age’ of the 1930′s to the 1950′s. I have watched bemused as so much they wrote about has come true. The idea of a meal in a box ready in minutes in a small microwave was laughable in the 1950′s and the replacing of currency with plastic was another source of entertainment. These guys were clearly highly creative, and mad as hatters. However, one of the final areas of their predictions is now in sight. Personalised medicine, where you get treatment specifically tailored to your unique genetic profile, has been one of the main dreams of the gene revolution and it was hoped that, but putting it into practice is proving tough. The decoding of the human genome in 2000 sparked hopes that a new era of tailored medicine was just around the corner and although small advances have been made it is now looking like another 20 years before it is a true reality. In fact, uncovering the genetic differences that determine how a person responds to a drug, and developing tests, or biomarkers, for those differences, is proving more challenging than initially hoped. At the Reuters Health Summit in New York last week, major drug manufacturers met to discuss this new field of Pharmacogenetics and although they could not promise widespread innovation in the short term they are optimistic that there will be very specific examples available that are currently being developed.

We are all aware of the ‘hit and miss’ prescribing that goes on – particularly for complex diseases like depression – where an individual’s reaction to the prescribed drugs are so variable and that frequently many different prescriptions have to be tried before finding the combination, or single drug, that makes the difference.

It will make future prescribing infinitely more accurate, with no risk of adverse drug reactions, so although it is not here yet, it really is on the way.


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