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What is Pharmacogenomics?

Pharmacogenomics is a relatively new branch of pharmacology that uses a combination of traditional biochemistry and genetics to create new drugs and medications.
Pharmacogenomics aims to tailor drugs based on genetic profiles.
Article Details
  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 07 August 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
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Pharmacogenomics is a new field in the study of pharmacology. For years, prescribing medications to patients has always held the possibility that a patient will not respond well to the treatment. One can look at past medical history for some clues as to whether a medication might cause an adverse reaction, but clues many not exist in medical history. Instead, scientists posit that certain variants in RNA molecules and the types of proteins present in cells are better predictors for assessing effectiveness of drugs and determining or predicting an adverse reaction.

The field of pharmacogenomics is a combination of traditional biochemistry that aids in the production of drugs, and the study of genetics, or more specifically genomics, which looks at individual variants in proteins and genes. The goal is to tailor drugs to fit each person by assessing gene and protein differences. The theory behind pharmacogenomics is that evaluating the tiny variances in RNA helps scientists design medications to exactly fit with the patient’s needs and reduce the risk of adverse reactions.

By evaluating the specific proteins and genes of disease, medications could be designed to target the genetic makeup of things like viruses, bacteria, and cancer cells. This might lead to medications that are “disease specific” and cause fewer side effects to patients. Some medications effectively treat disease, but have extremely undesirable side effects. If pharmacogenomics finds a way to attack a disease without also attacking a patient’s body, it can dramatically improve medical treatment.

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Vaccines might be more effective if geared toward people with different types of proteins and genes. Those in the field of pharmacogenomics also posit that drug research would be more efficient, and that drug testing would be less extensive since genetic profiles would determine which individuals would benefit from newly developed medications. This might lead to lower costs for research and testing.

Much of pharmacogenomics depends upon people agreeing to have their genetic code tested, and not every individual supports this. With automated health care systems, some people fear that a genetic code that shows greater risk for certain types of disease might get into the hands of employers or health insurance companies. It is argued that those predisposed toward certain diseases might have a harder time getting a job or health insurance. In order for pharmacogenomics to be successful, people must be willing to have their genetic code tested and evaluated, and not all will comply with this.

Some other problems with pharmacogenomics at present are the vast varieties of protein sequences, called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). A single variant can change the pharmaceutical needs of the individual, and it can take a long time to spot one variant. At this time, medical researchers don’t necessarily know which genes respond to certain drugs, or how they react to them.

Another issue pharmacogenomics encounters is the current idea of mass production of single drugs by pharmaceutical companies. This mindset of “one size fits all” medication would have to be rejected by pharmaceutical companies in favor of creating much smaller batches of medication or vaccines, precisely tailored for certain genetic codes. Further, a significant learning curve would exist for doctors in prescribing medications based on pharmacogenomics. They would need to learn how to analyze each patient’s gene variations in order to know what to prescribe, and in what dosage.

Still the field of pharmacogenomics holds great promise. For those who cannot take certain medications because of adverse reactions, hope exists that medications might some day address each individual’s specific health needs. However, much more research is needed to truly put pharmacogenomics into wide scale practice.

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