The Perfect Drug
What once would have once sounded like the plot of a 1950’s science fiction novel is now the future of modern medicine — soon, our medications will not just treat our conditions, they’ll be tailored to our individual genomes. Accompanying this gigantic leap into limitless potential will be a new era for health care. The FDA is referring to it as “personalized medicine,” and it’s going to change everything.
Our genes can predict a greater story about our future — not if we’ll find love or win the lottery, like a fortune teller reading a palm. Our genetic information will uncover which diseases we’re predisposed to, take a more detailed look at the conditions we already have, and distinguish between the medications that will interact best with the proteins and enzymes our genes produce and the complex pathways they regulate. When you keep in mind that every individual has 3-4 million genetic variations unique to their body, you quickly realize how unbelievably vast the possibilities are.
The production of medicine will no longer be “one size fits all,” like taking an antibiotic for a certain type of bacterial infection. Instead, the chemical composition of a drug will be indicated to treat individuals with specific base pair regions in their DNA, causing their bodies to react to a drug differently than another patient’s would. Someone with a different genetic makeup may not metabolize the same drug as well or at all, or they might experience worse side-effects — due to how their body is genetically predisposed to react to certain treatments.
Reducing adverse events and speeding up recovery
Pharmacogenomics can remove the trial-and-error-like stage that may occur when a patient begins a new treatment. It can also allude to what the appropriate dosage of a drug might be. Initially, a patient can’t possibly know what drug might work best for them. As a result, they may have to try numerous drugs until they find one that does. Ideally, if their doctor has a genetic blueprint that can indicate which drugs are a genetic match, it would speed up their recovery by allowing them to start the right therapy right away, instead of on the third or forth try, which wastes valuable time.
This, in turn, can reduce the risk of adverse events, because it becomes less likely that a patient will be put on the wrong drug in the first place — a drug that may have induced harmful side effects. Adverse events cause about 100,000 deaths and 2 million hospitalizations annually, so reducing them, even slightly, would be a huge success for medicine.
Healthcare’s very own Pandora’s Box
Having access to a patient’s genome is a powerful tool that raises new questions and debates, from privacy issues to health insurance costs. Will information that indicates, for instance, that a woman’s genes display a high risk for breast cancer change her likelihood of receiving insurance coverage? How will this effect her insurance costs? Will she be considered too risky to insure? And, most importantly, should this information be provided to insurance companies at all? Could an age of genetic discrimination arise?
Although there is always money to be made, there are also several disadvantages for the pharmaceutical industry. The most obvious is that it’s never financially advantageous to produce a “specialized” anything. It’s much easier to mass produce one drug that treats one condition vs. producing several different versions of the same drug to treat smaller groups of genetically varied patients. New testing, and an entirely new way of screening and maintaining our health, will lead to different bottom lines and interests on a grand scale.
Pharma marketing’s golden opportunity
The marketing campaigns for these specialized drugs will not only need to speak to the at-risk or diagnosed patient, but to their unique genetic constitution. It may also open newer, highly specialized doors that will allow patient education programs to focus on genetic variation, instead of the broader condition, leading to more segmented support programs.
Although patient relationship marketing aims to target each individual patient with tools, support, education, and resources, personalized medicine will take this approach many steps further. Genetically tailored medicine is a complex subject that will need to be explained in an accessible way. Patients will want information about how their genetic code affects their disease and its treatment. They’ll have questions about how the process works, what their results could mean, privacy concerns, and whether they should consider receiving information about conditions they might be predisposed to, some of which could be debilitating, like Alzheimer’s.
There is a tremendous amount of information that will need to be provided to patients about such a new form of care and what they should expect from it. It’s an enormous opportunity — and during a time when pharma’s blockbuster patents are dropping like flies, rest assured that a bright future lies ahead. Big pharma no longer needs to scramble for the next big thing. It’s here.