Personalized Medicine is Here, and Genetically Tailored

photo by Tom Purcell via Flickr

With a simple saliva sample, biotech and genomics companies are now capable of deciphering loads of practical and even life-changing genetic information. This information may reshape the future of prescription medicine as we know it.

The implications of personalized genomics are as wide as one’s imagination is deep, and if the field continues to plow forward, both the way we perceive, and in turn, the way we treat our bodies are in for some big changes. This is the beginning of genetically personalized medicine.

What is personalized medicine?

Personalized medicine, is the process of scientifically analyzing one’s genetic makeup so that prescription medication can be tailored to best suit the needs of any given patient.

Without major advances in genomics personalized medicine would remain only a futuristic– maybe even outlandish–daydream of medical science. However, with major clinical progress, and the introduction of publicly accessible genomics kits from companies like 23andMe, genetic testing is as feasible as your Internet connection and credit card will allow.

Personalized medicine has been driven by the idea that the effectiveness of prescription medication may be dictated by one’s genetic makeup. This concept has spawned an entirely new field of study, academically referred to as pharmacogenomics.

Pharmacogenomics – the science concerned with ways to compensate for genetic differences in patients which cause varied responses to a single drug

-Merriam Webster

Personalized medicine and pharmacogenomics

Though pharmacogenomics as a field of study is still relatively new in the world of science, it has already made significant strides, and may offer a myriad of potential benefits. According to the American Medical Association (AMA) pharmacogenomics may be helpful for developing the following:

  • Powerful medicines – with help from genetic testing, pharmaceutical companies will be able to develop stronger and more targeted medications to better treat illnesses
  • Safer drugs – genetic information will help identify genes that may result in adverse reactions to specific drugs and allow doctors to prescribe accordingly and avoid such reactions
  • More accurate dosages – doctors will be able to more accurately predict how the body will respond to medicines and correspond the dosage accordingly

Pharmacogenomics has been particularly useful when it comes to the treatment of cancerous tumours.

The National Institute of Health (NIH) explains that by analyzing specific genes in a patient’s tumor (which can vary greatly between lung, breast, and liver cancers) doctors can better decide upon a drug regimen that’s most effective in treating each individual patient.

A recent study indicates that patients with a genetically targeted treatment plan observed a 27 percent response rate as opposed to the 5 percent response rate of those not targeted.

This same methodology is applicable to other serious ailments like HIV, depression, or cardiovascular disease.

When will personalized medicine help me?

If you’re wondering when all of these futuristic sounding applications and science will be available for your usage, you’re in luck–they already are.

And If the national consortium, eMERGE (The Electronic Medical Records and Genomics Network), has anything to do with it, we may be getting our genetic results at lighting speed.

A primary objective of eMERGE, which is comprised of experts in statistics, genomics, ethics, and clinical medicine, is combining genetic information and research into Electronic Medical Records (EMR) so that clinicians will be able to better provide genetic risk assessment on a range of genetic diseases.

This convergence of research into the readily accessible EMR will grant physicians the ability to reference large swaths of empirical information–information that can be applied to the prevention, treatment, and prescription processes.

Currently eMERGE is in phase II of its rollout plan, meaning it is in the process of developing the best method of incorporating its data into the day-to-day of our our everyday clinicians.

The takeaway

Though the ability to assess and deliver useful genetic information in relation to personalized medicine will likely only widen, the application of such information will be dependent upon pharmaceutical companies’ willingness to adopt a more personal approach.

Regardless of its adoption, the benefits remain the same. Here are some key points to remember:

  • Personalized medicine will be safer, more effective, and more powerful
  • Genetic information is already being compiled to help expedite the process of personalizing medicine
  • Personalized medicine is already being used, albeit not holistically

We measure success by the understanding we deliver. If you could express it as a percentage, how much fresh understanding did we provide?


James Pero