Personalized Medicine

Advances in medicine and science could mean that in the future prescriptions may be personalized based on an individual's genetic information. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson has more on how personalized medicine could change the drug industry.

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Many common prescription drugs fall short in their effectiveness. That's because every person is genetically different and responds to drugs in different ways. Dr. Amalia Issa is an associate professor at the University of Houston and the director of a joint program between UH and Methodist Hospital called Personalized Medicine and Targeted Therapeutics. She says right now doctors often resort to a hit or miss approach to treating common problems.

"People try one hypertension drug and they try it for a few months and then they discover 'oh it's not lowering my -- the blood pressure to the amount that it should be lowering that' and therefore that person is still at increased risk for heart problems and then they, so they -- okay let's switch you over to another drug. Or in some situations you get a -- get a side effect such as, you know, maybe sleepiness or something where you have a problem functioning, so let's switch you over to another drug. That's not a very -- that's really not an uncommon situation."

Personalized medicine could provide an answer to that problem by showing doctors which patients will respond to certain medications. However, the genetic profiling required to accurately map prescription treatments is expensive and difficult, so it's not likely to be an option for the entire spectrum of ailments. Issa says personalized medicine will probably be applied to only the most serious diseases.

"I think it's going to happen on a case by case basis. I think it's already happening in oncology, in terms of cancer -- developing drugs for cancer, with good reason. It's -- I think it's going to depend a great deal on the severity of the disease, the type of outcomes we have, how easy it is to accurately diagnose."

Before personalized medicine can become an everyday occurance, Issa says there will have to be a shift in how the healthcare industry approaches the prevention and treatment of disease. Genetic profiling means everyone from the patient, to pharmaceutical companies, the federal government and insurance companies will have to grapple with issues of ethics, privacy, regulation and public policy.

"As long as people realize that having a particular polymorphism that says whether or not you can respond to a drug should not immediately imply or lead one to lose their insurance over what kind of -- over speculation about what kind of disease one has. That's a -- that's a key point."

Issa says personalized medicine has the potential to shift the industry from reparative to preventive therapy and from huge, blockbuster drugs to small individualized treatments. Laurie Johnson Houston Public Radio News.

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