Monday, September 26, 2005

Weird Science

I'm not sure where the Reveres are currently in relation to cyberspace, but in case they won't make it back today, here's something from me.

Apparently some people were disappointed with my sarcastic take on the new FDA Commissioner, and were hoping for something more substantive. Well, we don't have a nominee for the permanent job, but we do have a new Acting Commissioner, a urologic surgeon by training who is Director of the National Cancer Institute. According to the Associated Press:

FDA's new acting chief tells of a sea change in care
Predicts more tailored response to patients

By John J. Lumpkin, Associated Press | September 26, 2005

WASHINGTON -- The new acting chief of the Food and Drug Administration, Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach, said yesterday that he will be presiding over a transformation in medicine, as scientists understand diseases in a way that could improve doctors' ability to treat patients.

Von Eschenbach, tapped by President Bush as the temporary chief of the regulatory agency, said yesterday that discoveries about diseases at ''a molecular level" will lead to a new kind of healthcare.

Now, doctors treat illnesses based on how well other people have responded to a given treatment. Soon, they will develop a tailored response, built around specific understandings of the patient, the treatment and the disease, he said.

''We are discovering so much about diseases like cancer at the molecular level," said von Eschenbach, who is a urologic surgeon by training. ''Much of what we have done . . . has been based on a model of empiricism." Soon, doctors will be able to intervene with medical treatments more effectively matched to a specific patient's illness.

Preparing the FDA for such a transformation is among his goals, von Eschenbach said.

Hmm. In other news:
Targeted medicines are far off

September 26, 2005

Personalized medicines targeted according to a patient's genetic profile have been over-hyped and their widespread use is still 15 to 20 years away, leading scientists said last week.

The field, known as pharmacogenetics, has made strides in the battle against certain cancers and shows great promise in improving efficacy, reducing adverse reactions of drugs and limiting medical costs.

However, a report by the Royal Society, an independent academy of leading scientists, said more research into the genetics of complex diseases, DNA testing, international guidelines, and investment were needed before targeted therapies would be widely available.

''Personalized medicines show promise but they have undoubtedly been over-hyped," said David Weatherall, who chairs the working group that produced the report.

''This is a long-term goal and it will take many years to come to fruition."

The Royal Society goes on to say that the pharmaceutical companies won't invest sufficiently in this sort of technology, and it will require financial incentives, plus publicly funded testing of off-patent compounds. It seems to me the Commissioner of the FDA can worry about this Great Transformation later. Meanwhile, he needs to make the agency start working for us, not the drug companies.