Pharmacogenomics (also called pharmacogenetics) is a relatively new field of study which deals with how genetic factors affect and influence the way people respond to drugs. It is hoped that this type of study will help scientists optimize many types of drugs, and perhaps even one day create entirely individualized treatment programs based on individual genetics.
Using this type of approach means scientists may be able to create tailor-made medicines with increased potency and efficiency, and decreased toxicity and side effects. Other possible benefits include an improved ability to calculate appropriate drug dosages, improvement in the process of drug discovery and development, and safer vaccines.
One of the most clinically relevant areas currently under study is how drugs can interact with unique human metabolisms to produce very different reactions. For the most part, well-known and well-characterized drugs work in much the same way in the majority of the population.
In a small percentage of people, however, some drugs may be metabolized in an entirely different way, producing what is called an adverse drug reaction. These unanticipated reactions cause more than 100,000 deaths and more than two million serious problems in the United States alone, every single year. Interestingly, studies have shown that drugs which cause adverse drug reactions tend to be those which are metabolized in the body by enzymes with polymorphisms (meaning that genetically different versions of the same enzyme exist).
Pharmacogenomics could, therefore, be used to identify people who may have adverse drug reactions, and also perhaps to identify why adverse reactions happen and modify drugs so that they are metabolized differently (thus preventing the adverse reaction).