Personalized Medicines Over-Hyped, Report Says

LONDON — Personalized medicines targeted according to a patient’s genetic profile have been over-hyped and their widespread use is still 15 to 20 years away, leading scientists said on Wednesday.

The field, known as pharmacogenetics, has made strides in the battle against certain cancers and shows great promise in improving efficacy, reducing adverse reactions of drugs and limiting medical costs.

However, a report by the Royal Society, an independent academy of leading scientists, said more research into the genetics of complex diseases, DNA testing, international guidelines and investment were needed before targeted therapies would be widely available.

“Personalized medicines show promise but they have undoubtedly been over-hyped,” said David Weatherall, who chairs the working group that produced the report.

“This is a long-term goal and it will take many years to come to fruition.”

The sequencing of the human genome paved the way for scientists and drug firms to match drugs and doses to particular patients and sparked predictions it could occur quickly.

For some cancer patients, it has.

Novartis’s Glivec for leukemia and Genentech’s Herceptin for breast cancer are so-called smart drugs that target molecular abnormalities or altered genes that promote tumor growth.

“The cancer field has led the way in the most remarkable way,” Weatherall told a news conference to launch the report.

A shortage of researchers, lack of knowledge about the genetics of diseases and funding have hampered progress against other illnesses.


The report recommends introducing financial incentives at the national and European level to encourage pharmaceutical companies to develop pharmacogenetic drugs with smaller potential markets than blockbuster medicines.

It also believes money should be available to research scientists to test existing, off-patent drugs, to determine the impact of genetics on adverse side effects in patients.

The report said the onus would be on governments to fund or provide incentives for carrying out tests on off-patent drugs.

Weatherall said it represented a major problem because the tests would need to be done on a drug-by-drug basis.

“We badly need guidelines for genetic research across international frontiers,” he adding, emphasizing the international scope of the challenge.

More money should also come from companies that produce diagnostic DNA tests to match the treatment to the patient.

Personalized medicine could also play an important role against the world’s biggest killers in the developing world such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, and research will need to be done in developing countries.