Efficacy of treatments and the rise of personalized medicine

Personalized medicine is the ability to tailor therapy to an individual patient so that, as it’s often put, the right treatment is given to the right patient at the right time. But just how personal is it?

While the phrase might conjure up images of each patient getting their own individual therapeutic cocktail – this isn’t actually the case. Designing an individually tailored package would be too labour intensive and (at least currently) too expensive. Instead, the answer lies in understanding the genetics of patients and disease.

Up until the end of the 1990s (and in some diseases much more recently), we tended to employ a one-size-fits-all approach to the treatment of human disease. The traditional dogma has been as follows: a patient has a particular disease, say bowel cancer; we develop a drug or therapy that appears to be effective against it, and all patients with bowel cancer are given this drug or therapy. While some patients respond positively to the treatment and may even be cured, others show no response and derive no benefit from the treatment (perhaps even some side-effects). The drug continues to be prescribed.

This raises an issue: if all bowel cancer patients have the same disease, surely the treatment should work the same? Not true. How we respond to drugs and treatment can depend on our genetic makeup, or more precisely with this example, in the genetic make-up of the bowel cancer cells.

Read the full, original story: How science is using the genetics of disease to make drugs better

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