Securing the Benefits of Medical Innovation for Seniors: The Role of Prescription Drugs and Drug Coverage. The future of medical innovation looks promising

07/01/2002

  • The recent mapping of the human genome may usher in a new era of medical therapeutics.
  • Future generations of American seniors stand to benefit from continued vigorous medical innovation.

Many scientists believe that we are on the verge of another significant round of breakthroughs in medical research and development due to the recent mapping of the human genome. The deciphering of the human genome has improved our understanding of health and disease. (Bumol 2001) As scientists learn more about the function of different genes and their protein products, we will gain a more sophisticated knowledge of the cellular and molecular mechanisms of specific diseases. At the same time, new biological techniques and tools will enable scientists to explore both normal and abnormal biological systems with high molecular resolution.

As a result, pharmaceutical research will be able to capitalize on this increased appreciation of the cellular and molecular basis for diseases by identifying new genetic or protein targets for drug development. New products will be designed to interact with specific molecular entities involved in the generation of certain diseases. This targeted approach may reduce disabling or complicating side effects, which limit the usefulness of some current treatments. For example, new cancer treatments are being developed that target specific molecular features of cancer cells not found in normal cells. Hence, these agents will attack cancer cells but not healthy cells, thereby reducing some of the debilitating side effects of more standard cancer chemotherapy.

In the future, advances in genetic medicine may permit pharmaceutical therapy based on an individual’s unique genetic map. The evolving field of pharmacogenomics will allow physicians to select drugs that are ideally suited for individual patients based on their genetic makeup. (Weinstein 2000) Again, this approach may improve the efficiency and minimize the side effects of disease treatment. Moreover, determining the risk of developing a disease based on the genetic profile of asymptomatic patients may permit early preventive interventions that will delay or prevent the development of diseases.

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