Skip to main content
Premium Trial:

Request an Annual Quote

Pharmacogenomics' Global Failure

Pharmacogenomics has failed the global health community because it has not yielded new research that could be used to help treat people with rare, orphan, and tropical diseases in underdeveloped and developing countries, according to a new article in Global Public Health.

After conducting a review of pharmacogenomics studies that were published between 1997 and 2010, University of Montreal's School of Public Health bioethicist Catherine Olivier found that the pharmacogenomics research community has neglected to pursue science in these disease areas.

Rare, orphan, and tropical diseases account for around 46 percent of mortality in underdeveloped nations, and about 16 percent of mortalities in developing ones.

Over the course of that period the number of studies focusing on pharmacogenomics has ballooned, Olivier found, but the diseases areas that wrack the developing world made up only a small sliver of that research.

She identified 626 studies published in 171 different journals, and analyzed each of these based on its origins, authors, and authors' affiliations with pharmaceutical companies.

"The information collected allowed us to draw a map showing current and historical trends in the development of pharmacogenomics research," she says in a statement.

That analysis showed that the number of studies in the PubMed database focused on pharmacogenomics and pharmacogenetics doubled between 2003 and 2010, compared to the six years prior.

But that growth in research was not in areas likely to lead to global health innovations, she found.

"Rare diseases, tropical infections, and maternal health, which should have benefited from pharmacogenomic research under the Millennium Development Goals, represented only 3.8 percent of published studies,” Olivier says.

Nearly 23 percent of pharmacogenomics studies during those years centered on oncology, roughly 15 percent looked at depression and psychological disorders, and almost 14 percent were aimed at cardiovascular disorders.
The finding of a focus on diseases that have the highest impact on more developed nations is not surprising. She says it is generally recognized "that the distribution of technology and research follows the so-called 90/10 ratio rule, that is, 90 percent of global funding for health research, including the development drugs, is invested to treat 10 percent of the world’s population."

A more surprising result from her study is that even the BRICS countries — Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa — did not produce much research to even out that 90/10 bias. Of the 65 publications from the BRICS nations, only two were concerned with tropical infections and rare diseases.