December 30, 2008

Advocates push ‘personalized medicine’

Most drugs work for only about half the people who take them, spurring a push to improve healthcare through personalized medicine, U.S. researchers say.

Personalized medicine, involving genetic screening and other tests, would help doctors tailor remedies to patients, potentially improving care and saving money compared with one size fits all treatments, advocates say.

Colon cancer drugs Erbitux and Vectibix, for instance, do not work for the 40 percent of patients whose tumors have a particular genetic mutation, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

Tens of thousands of people taking the blood thinner warfarin are hospitalized each year in the United States because doctors do not prescribe the optimal dose, the Times said.

Despite the promise advocates see for personalized medicine, It's going to take 20 to 30 years for all this to fall into place, Dr. Gregory Downing, who heads the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' efforts to spur personalized healthcare, told the newspaper.

The hurdles include drug makers, who can be reluctant to develop or encourage tests that may limit the use of their drugs. In addition, insurers may not pay for tests, which can cost up to a few thousand dollars.

Makers of the tests hope their business becomes one of healthcare's next big growth industries.