It has long been known that people respond to the same substances in different ways. In 510 BC, the Greek mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras was living in southern Italy when he observed that some people grew seriously ill after eating fava beans while others suffered no harmful effects at all. His response was to demand that his followers avoid the fava bean altogether.
Twenty-five centuries later, in 1956, scientists confirmed many people in that region of the Mediterranean suffer from a hereditary G6PD enzyme deficiency which causes a serious reaction, hematic anemia; otherwise known as “favism,” to fava beans and other legumes.
A few years later, the German geneticist, Friedrich Vogel, coined the term pharmacogenetics to describe the study of how genetic differences among people cause different responses to the same drug and how to develop new drug therapies to compensate for these differences. It wasn’t until the 1990s the term pharmacogenomics began being used.
In 2000, the Human Genome Project (HPG) successfully deciphered the roughly 30,000 genes in human DNA and opened the door to a new world of research and possibilities. Scientists began to study the impact our DNA has on our health in earnest and look for ways to utilize this information to improve the quality of healthcare. The impact the HGP has had on the pharmaceutical industry has been profound, particularly in reducing adverse drug reactions.
Adverse drug reactions (ADR) are the fourth leading cause of death in the United States and account for one out of five injuries or deaths to hospitalized patients every year. Prescription drugs are estimated to be responsible for 2.74 million ADRs and 128,000 deaths annually. At an expense of $136 billion, ADRs cost more than cardiovascular illness and diabetes together.
Pharmacogenomics is where genetics and medicine intersect, and the leadership team at Blue Ridge Pharmacy believes this sort of precision medicine is the future of healthcare.
“Pharmacogenomics offers the ability for healthcare providers to understand the unique genetic profile of each patient and tailor the medication treatment based on that profile,” says Randy Beaman, VP of Business Development for BRP. “Knowing that the correct medication is being prescribed for a particular genetic profile will increase health outcomes, increase the patient’s outlook on treatment by eliminating adverse reactions, and result in significant healthcare savings by eliminating medications that ultimately won’t have success.”
Cancer and mental health drugs are currently being studied to identify how genetic differences can impact their effectiveness. Drug developers have traditionally screened for chemicals with a broad action against a disease. But now, researchers are studying genomics to design new drugs specifically aimed at genetic subgroups of patients. Pharmacogenomic tools are also being utilized to create drugs targeting specific molecular and cellular pathways involved in diseases.
In fact, in the years since the HGP was completed, more than 20,000 new pharmacogenomic citations have been created in PubMed, more than 3,500 gene-drug variant associations have been reported, and nearly 200 medications with pharmacogenomic information in their product labeling have come into use.
Some day, a patient will go to their doctor for a biopsy, and, if the tissue sample is found to be malignant, the doctor will immediately schedule the sample to be sequenced. Once the DNA of the cancerous tissue is mapped, an oncologist will create a personalized drug therapy unique to the patient and their specific form of cancer. With this kind of tailor-made therapy, a patient’s cancer will be eradicated with minimal harmful side effects.
Through pharmacogenomics, this day is coming sooner than you might think.