From Bang to Whimper: A Heart Drug’s Story

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, United States on 2013-01-08 16:33Z by Steven

From Bang to Whimper: A Heart Drug’s Story

The New York Times

Abigail Zuger, M.D.

Jonathan Kahn, Race in a Bottle: The Story of BiDil and Racialized Medicine in a Post-Genomic Age. Columbia University Press, December 2012, 336 pages.

On June 23, 2005, American medicine managed to take a small step forward and a giant step backward at precisely the same time, with government approval of the first medication to be earmarked for a specific racial group. It was BiDil, a drug designed to treat heart failure in blacks.

Enthusiasts hailed BiDil’s approval by the Food and Drug Administration as a landmark event in the nascent field of pharmacogenomics, which aims to create drugs tailored to fit an individual’s genetic makeup as precisely as a bespoke suit drapes its owner’s shoulders. Critics just winced and clocked one more misstep in medicine’s long history of race-related disasters.

You would think that the elucidation of the human genome would have cleared up most of the hoary untruths surrounding race and health. But as Jonathan Kahn makes clear in his worthy if convoluted review of the events surrounding the birth of BiDil, the genome has in many respects only made things worse.

It has been clear for decades that race has minimal relevance to the body’s inner workings. Research has repeatedly shown that the biologic variations among individuals of the same race are reliably great enough for race to retain little utility as a biologic predictor. You might as well sort people by height. Or, in the words of an editorial writer for Nature Biotechnology in 2005, “Pooling people in race silos is akin to zoologists grouping raccoons, tigers and okapis on the basis that they are all stripy.”

Read the entire review here.

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