New Era For Biotech?

Published: Feb 10, 2005

Angst about drug safety still shadows the market for biomedical firms, but biotechnology is starting to yield products that may open the door to a new era of safer medicine. One strong sign of that emerging trend is a newly approved gene chip test that can unravel part of a long-standing mystery _ why do some people suffer serious side effects from drugs that make most patients better? The AmpliChip CYP450 test can identify people who clear certain drugs from their systems at an abnormal rate, either too fast or too slow. Fast metabolizers end up with too little medicine in their bodies to do any good, while slow metabolizers can build up dangerous levels of a drug. The test's approval by the Food and Drug Administration this month was just one of the signals that gene-based diagnostics and research can lead to a more powerful and individualized form of medical practice. Companies are touting their efforts to find blood tests to pick up early signs of cancer, find out which genes are active at different stages of disease and detect bacteria and viruses in blood donations. JPMorgan biotech analyst Ron Renaud said that growing knowledge of the specific molecular mechanisms of disease will build momentum for diagnostic tools to find the best drug at the best dose for individual patients.

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