Treatment based on biological markers a vision
WASHINGTON – For years, scientists have held out hope that the rapidly evolving field of genetics could transform medical diagnosis and treatment, moving beyond a trial-and-error approach as old as the Hippocratic Oath.
But the vision of individualized treatment based on a patient’s genetic makeup and other biological markers has yet to materialize, even if better use of genetic information has led to advances in cancer care and other areas.
Now the pursuit of “personalized medicine” is expected to get a major push from the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama. As a senator, Obama introduced legislation to coordinate the sometimes conflicting policies of government agencies and provide more support for private research.
Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, D-R.I., has introduced legislation in the House that builds on Obama’s.
Obama is also interested in the role that personalized medicine could play as an element of changes in the broader health care system.
“The issue of getting the right treatment to the right person goes with his whole emphasis on health reform,” said Mark McClellan, a Republican health care expert.
Most prescription drugs are effective only in about 60 percent of treated patients, leading to a trial-and-error approach to treatment that not only may be more costly, but can put some patients at risk.
Among patients, the varying responses to medications may be linked to differences in genetic makeup that affect how the body processes a drug.
The practice of medicine could be streamlined if doctors had reliable ways of predicting which drugs would work on which individuals.