Will Pharmacogenetics Lead to Colour-Coded Medicine?Progress Educational Trust
Foresight Centre, University of Liverpool, 1 Brownlow Street, Liverpool L69 3GL
10 May 2011
An evening debate at the University of Liverpool's Foresight Centre organised by the Progress Educational Trust (PET), supported by the Wellcome Trust. This event forms part of the PET project Genes, Ancestry and Racial Identity: Does It Matter Where Your Genes Come From? (which launched with the preceding event Is There a Place for Race in Biology? and continues with the succeeding event Genetic Medalling).
Pharmacogenetics is a discipline that investigates how genetic variation relates to the effectiveness of drugs. It is predicated not on race, but on the unique genetic differences between individuals - a very different concept. Nonetheless, pharmacogenetics has important implications for the concept of race.
Unless and until we introduce universal genetic screening, physicians will require some form of marker to help them identify those individuals they feel are likely to have a certain genetic makeup. Very often, these markers are 'racial'. For example, three specific mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes account for approximately 90 percent of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations identified in Ashkenazi Jews. This is in contrast to the hundreds of unique BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations that genetic testing has turned up in people who are not of Ashkenazi Jewish descent.
Furthermore, genetic variants that influence responses to drugs may be shared by members of a particular racial or ethnic group. BiDil, which treats heart failure, is approved by the USA's Food and Drug Administration specifically to treat African Americans. Thus pharmacogenetics has racial implications, which could prove controversial when it comes to the pricing, availability and incentive to develop drugs that are optimised for particular groups in society.
This public event will see experts with contrasting perspectives discuss the potential of pharmacogenetics. What might pharmacogenetics mean for our understanding of, and attitudes toward, race?
In the PET tradition, following introductory presentations the bulk of the debate's running time will be devoted to soliciting questions and comments from the audience.
Professor of Molecular and Clinical Pharmacology and NHS Chair of Pharmacogenetics at the University of Liverpool, and Chair of the Pharmacovigilance Expert Advisory Group of the Commission on Human Medicines at the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency
Dr Richard Tutton
Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Lancaster University, and Associate Director of the Centre for Economic and Social Aspects of Genomics at the Economic and Social Research Council's Genomics Network
At lectern: Sarah Norcross
Photograph by Doreen Hampson
At lectern: Dr Richard Tutton
Photograph by Doreen Hampson