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Pharma's Next Big Thing: Personalized Medicine

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Who's who in the world of pharmacogenomics.

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Plavix isn't the only blood thinner that's been affected by the personal touch. Warfarin, a widely used blood thinner, also isn't responsive in certain patient populations that expressed certain genes, causing some patients to be at severe risk of bleeding. But ineffectiveness or adverse drug reactions could become a thing of the past if more patients were required to take genetic tests -- often a one-time deal that would cost between $300 to $800.

But the area that could stand to get the biggest boost from personalized medicine is oncology. Cancer drugs and chemotherapy are often only effective in 50% of the patients they're prescribed to, according to ScientiaAdvisors. "Certainly we can do better than 50/50," said former Eli Lilly chairman Sidney Taurel at Arizona State University luncheon in 2008. Taurel, who stepped down from Eli Lilly late last year, has been one of the major proponents of the personalized medicine movement.

And some companies are already trying to bridge that gap: In 1998 Genentech (now part of Roche) got approval for the cancer treatment Herceptin. The drug is only given to people whose genetic test show that they have an over-expression of the protein HER2, which is an indicator of an aggressive form of breast cancer.

Novartis (NVS) now tests for a protein mutation called BCR-ABL to determine if its chronic myeloid leukemia drug Gleevec will be effective in patients. Those patients that have a prevalence of the protein will respond better to the drug.

The PWC report says that the reason oncology drugs are at the forefront of personal medicine is because "the diagnosis of cancer is almost always based on a biopsy" and "subsequent examination of cells or tumor tissue is also common."
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