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Ethics body reports on personalised medicines

25 September 2003
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 227

The UK's Nuffield Council on Bioethics has published a report on the ethical and policy issues surrounding pharmacogenetics: the use of tests to match medicines to a person's genetic make-up. It concludes that although such tests may significantly improve the quality of patient care, it is still unclear how quickly and effectively the technology will be deployed. It also says that as well as potential benefits, the use of pharmacogenetic tests could cause 'unwanted negative consequences', such as the reduced availability of some medicines and possible genetic discrimination. The document, which can be downloaded from the Council's website, goes on to consider the ethical, legal and regulatory issues arising from pharmacogenetics, and makes several recommendations for the future development of this technology.

People often respond differently to the same medicine: it may be more effective in some people than others, or cause unwanted side effects in some. In some cases, these differences may be down to genetic variation. However, claims by companies that pharmacogenetics will lead to 'the right medicine, for the right patients, at the right dose' may be overstated, says Professor Peter Lipton, chairman of the working party set up to produce the new report. 'But it is important to encourage discussion of ethical and policy issues raised by the introduction of pharmacogenetics,' he added. The report includes the results of a public consultation carried out by the Nuffield Council between November 2002 and February 2003, which prompted 84 responses. Half of these were from organisations, representing a variety of pharmaceutical companies, medical practitioners, patient groups and insurers.

The report expresses concern that the use of pharmacogenetic tests in clinical trials might mean that some potentially valuable new medicines may not be developed, if the number of potential patients who might use a particular medicine is too small to be profitable. It recommends that medicine licensing agencies should pay attention to such 'pharmacogenetic stratification', possibly using existing 'orphan medicine' legislation. On the issue of confidentiality, the report says that genetic tests are no different to any other type of medical tests, such as blood tests, although it acknowledges that genetic tests can be rich in information. It also points out that pharmacogenetic test results would fall under the current moratorium on the use of genetic test results by insurance companies, which extends until 2006.

Ethical issues of pharmacogenetics must be addressed, says Nuffield Council
British Medical Journal |  27 September 2003
Ethics backing for tailored drugs
BBC News Online |  23 September 2003
Pharmacogenetics: ethical issues
Nuffield Council on Bioethics |  23 September 2003
20 June 2011 - by Ruth Pidsley 
US scientists have reported possibly the first example of using one person's genetic sequence to refine a diagnosis and provide personalised medical treatment. Whole-genome sequencing (WGS) helped pinpoint defects in the DNA of 14-year-old fraternal twins Noah and Alexis Beery causing their rare neurological condition, dopamine-responsive dystonia (DRD)...
11 April 2011 - by Ben Jones 
The Nuffield Council on Bioethics has begun a broad project exploring how legislators and members of the public respond to emerging biotechnologies. Calling for opinions and evidence, the Council has begun a preliminary consultation that seeks to identify common social, ethical, legal and policy issues raised by biotechnological developments...
10 October 2005 - by BioNews 
Japanese companies have built a desk-top machine that allows doctors to check their patients' DNA before writing a prescription, the journal Nature reports. The device, which they say will be on sale for five million yen (£25,000) in a year's time, uses a single drop of blood and delivers results...
22 September 2005 - by BioNews 
The UK's Royal Society has published a report on the potential of pharmacogenetics - drug treatments tailored to a person's genetic make-up - following a year-long investigation into the subject. It concludes that although 'personalised medicines' have a promising future, it will be at least another 15-20 years before their use...
21 September 2004 - by BioNews 
The UK's Royal Society is launching a year-long investigation into the potential of pharmacogenetics: drug treatments tailored to a person's genetic make-up. The study, headed by geneticist Sir David Weatherall, will look at when and if 'personalised medicine' will become a reality. It will also assess whether healthcare providers in...
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