Sometimes finding the appropriate drug for a patient comes down to an exercise of trial and error. Even though physicians take personalized factors into account when prescribing a medication, such as a patient’s age or organ function, it is still common for people to experience adverse reactions or simply fail to respond to an initial therapy. That process is costly, potentially dangerous and means patients can spend time taking an ineffective drug that may unnecessarily expose them to side effects.
Physicians and scientists believe that the emerging field of pharmacogenomics — the study of how genetic variation affects drug response — will bring much-needed optimization to this process. Using key information already encoded in a person’s unique genome, physicians hope to predict the medication that will be both safe and most effective for a patient.
“It has become very evident that there are mutations in the genome that predispose people to very serious side effects, and that these relationships are predictable. If you have this information, you must use it,” says Minoli Perera, PharmD, PhD, associate professor of Pharmacology. “Ten to 20 years from now, this won’t even be a hot topic — it will just be what we do.”
Eliminating A Health Disparity
But while the field has made important advancements in recent years, it’s also been held back by a key limitation: Almost all research that has identified relevant biomarkers in the genome has been performed exclusively in populations of European descent. As a result, some novel genomic tests currently being pushed into the clinic may be virtually useless in patients of African descent or other minority populations, who carry genetic mutations different than Caucasian patients.