Drugmakers are eager to develop medicines targeted at ethnic groups, but so far they have made poor choices based on unsound science. By Jonathan Kahn
Two years ago, on June 23, 2005, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first “ethnic” drug. Called BiDil (pronounced “bye-dill”), it was intended to treat congestive heart failure—the progressive weakening of the heart muscle to the point where it can no longer pump blood efficiently—in African-Americans only. The approval was widely declared to be a significant step toward a new era of personalized medicine, an era in which pharmaceuticals would be specifically designed to work with an individual’s particular genetic makeup. Known as pharmacogenomics, this approach to drug development promises to reduce the cost and increase the safety and efficacy of new therapies. BiDil was also hailed as a means to improve the health of African-Americans, a community woefully underserved by the U.S. medical establishment. Organizations such as the Association of Black Cardiologists and the Congressional Black Caucus strongly supported the drug’s approval.