Research into pharmacogenetics- the use of genetic tests to match medicines to a person's genetic make-up - is to receive £4 million of funding, Health Minister Lord Warner announced last week. The cash will go to six different research projects, which include studies on medicines used to prevent blood clots, epilepsy drugs and a test to identify people at risk of having a fatal reaction to general anaesthetics.
'Whilst research in this area is still in its early stages, pharmacogenetics has enormous potential to improve the effectiveness of some treatments that patients receive, and more importantly could save lives by identifying those patients who, because of their genetic make-up, are likely to react badly to certain medicines', said Lord Warner.
The new funding forms part of the UK government's strategy to integrate genetics into routine healthcare, outlined in the White Paper published in June 2003. Many scientists feel that personalised medicines will revolutionise medical care in the future, leading to doctors prescribing 'the right drug, for the right patient, given at the right dose'. However, only a handful of the genetic variations linked to adverse reactions or a reduced response to a particular drug have so far been identified.
Some of the funding will go to scientists based at St James' University Hospital in Leeds, who are aiming to develop a new screening test to detect people at risk of developing malignant hyperthermia, a potentially fatal reaction to general anaesthetic drugs. Another project to benefit is one investigating the genetic basis of the side effects triggered by the anti-inflammatory drug azathioprine, being carried out at Salford Royal Hospital.
Scientists at the University of Liverpool will carry out research into adverse reactions to the anti-blood-clotting drug Warfarin, while a team at the Walton Centre for Neurology and Neurosurgery aims to develop a test to predict a person's response to the epilepsy drug Clobazam. University of Liverpool researchers will look at the genetic factors that trigger liver damage after taking penicillin and anti-tuberculosis medicines. The sixth project to receive funding is one investigating the genes that cause sensitivity to anthracyclines, which are very effective cancer drugs, but can cause heart damage in susceptible individuals.