I was disappointedly surprised by the vast majority of articles and blog posts that charge genetics and/or socioeconomic status as the sole cause of health disparities. I did find several well-thought articles that concentrated on the mechanistic role of psychosocial stress as a serious source to the health disparities found in the U.S.. However, at the risk of over-iterating this weeks reading, I decided not to follow up on these specific articles.
Instead, I found this interesting piece: Race In a Bottle. Written by Jonathan Kahn, he explains a new trend in the pharmaceutical industry (backed by the FDA) to target racial groups with specific “ethnic” drugs. The specific drug mentioned is called BiDil, created to treat congestive heart failure in African American people only.
Apparently, this was one of a number of concocted drugs leading the way in a new era of personalized medicine called pharmacogenomics – drugs that are supposed to supplement one’s genetics. However the question is raised, is it an overgeneralization to assume that one’s genetic disposition can easily be determined by one’s skin color?
BiDil was marketed to treat the African American population, purportedly a community that is underserved by U.S. medical care. Supporting my opinion that the pharmaceutical industry is first and foremost a profit-concerned business, is the realization that BiDil is really nothing more than the combination of two common drugs already in use (each not reserved for any specific ethnic group).
As Kahn’s article continues to explain, the mechanistic efficacy of the drug is not fully understood and not known to link to any certain genes. My stark dismay with the pharmaceutical’s new approach is the lack of sound science that has supported it. Kahn seems to have drawn the same conclusion – that there are more than just genetics at play here. There are a complex range of social, economic, behavioral and personal conditions that need to be considered in an individual’s health and health care.