Genetic differences may cause varied reactions to medicines

December 1, 2002

Pharmaceutical Representative

Genetic differences among minorities may explain why some medicines are more effective in some patients than others, a new study finds.

Genetic differences among minorities may explain why some medicines are more effective in some patients than others, a new study finds. The study, which was published as a supplement to the October Journal of the National Medical Association, advises physicians and managed care plans to be aware of the need to tailor drug regimens for individuals, considering their ethnic or racial group, and to be on alert for uncommon responses or side effects from medicines used by minority patients.

The researchers assert that such factors must be considered by health plans and providers in order to ensure minority patients' access to clinically appropriate prescription drugs (see sidebar for additional recommendations).

Racial and ethnic differences

The study, "Racial and Ethnic Differences in Response to Medicines: Towards Individualized Treatment," shows that genetic variations can affect how the body processes a drug and its overall effect on the body, and that certain genetic variations are more prevalent among specific population groups. Although race and ethnicity are imprecise indicators of genetic differences, they can be helpful in anticipating variations in response to a medicine.

In addition to genetic factors, cultural factors (such as attitudes toward medicines, health beliefs and family influence) common to members of different ethnic groups and environmental factors (such as pollutants, smoking and climate) can affect how patients respond to drugs and compliance with prescribed treatments.

"Multiple factors affect a patient's response to a given drug and thus the effectiveness of therapy," said L. Natalie Carroll, president of the Washington-based National Medical Association. "Physicians, who work in a clinical setting, know this. Problems can arise if clinical decisions, which must be based on the individual's specific health needs, are constrained by techniques designed to control costs." PR

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