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Education Needed at All Levels for Real Personalized Medicine, Say Conference Participants

BOSTON, Sept. 15 – “We’ve got a large tasks ahead of us” explaining the role of pharmacogenomics in medical and healthcare practice, said Wayne Rosenkrans, director of Business Strategy, External Scientific Affairs at AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals, during a panel discussion today at the IBC Molecular Diagnostics and Personalized Medicine conference. That task is particularly large because poor understanding and misunderstanding of molecular sciences, particularly genetics “goes right through stakeholder groups,” including patients, healthcare providers and payors, Rosenkrans told GenomeWeb News. Rosenkrans said the problem has led to reluctance among clinicians to adopt genomic technologies, among the public about the technologies, and sluggishness on the part of payors. “A number of people believe there’s a growing social Ludditism – people are turning away from believing that science and medicine can make their lives better,” said Rosenkrans. Opinion watchers hold this belief, although it is also common in the pharmaceutical industry, although “it’s not the brightest dot on the radar screen,” he said. Fellow panel member Edward Blair, managing director at Integrated Medicines, agreed that the perception was common within pharma, while Pfizer representative on the panel noted that the Norwegian public was well informed on scientific developments in genetics. Ruth March, a senior principal scientist in Research and Development Genetics at AstraZeneca, said that reluctance within at least one foreign government to allow medical genetic testing stemmed from that government’s interaction with an agricultural company that flouted guidelines on genetically engineered plants. The US public’s reluctance to embrace genomics doesn’t necessarily interfere with genetic studies, however. “Several opinion polls by Harris Interactive suggest that people in the US are favorably disposed to genetic testing as long as privacy is assured,” Rosenkrans said. “Privacy is a huge issue” affecting genetic studies beyond the individual patient level, said Rosenkrans. “If you’re going to be HIPA compliant, it’s very difficult” because individual state agencies often have much more stringent privacy rules than the federal HIPA, he said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do educating doctors too,” said Rosenkrans. Very few medical schools offer genetics courses, and very few clinicians currently practicing have a background in the science, he said. At least part of the problem is related to the public’s perception of pharma in the wake of Vioxx, which along with other cox-2 inhibitors, was implicated last year in several cardiovascular adverse events and deaths in patients. Now, “anything we try to introduce is looked at with a jaundiced eye,” and pharma’s sales, marketing, research and development and other activities are heavily scrutinized from the viewpoint of safety, pricing and other public concerns, he said. Singled out for criticism by panel and audience members were Sydney Wolf [SP], a Public Citizen spokesperson [CK], and an outspoken critic of drug companies, and drug pricing; and Marcia Angel [SP], a former New England Journal of Medicine editor [CK] who has written extensively on pharma’s activities. Angel’s analyses, while they fed public distrust, were generally well informed, while Wolf’s were often inaccurate, said Rosenkrans.

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