In April of 2003, the U.S. National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) announced that it had mapped 99 percent of a human genome, ushering in the possibility of a new age of medicine.

Reflecting on the significance of the event, Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., then the director of NHGRI, predicted that it would someday “give health care providers immense new powers to treat, prevent and cure disease” by helping them confirm whether a treatment is likely to work for a given patient before the treatment is actually prescribed. This kind of “personalized” medicine can help patients get on effective treatment regimens faster, and avoid the expenses associated with treatments that do not end up helping them.

Personalized medicines

Today, patients have more opportunities than ever to participate in clinical trials for personalized medicines.

According to the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development, 42 percent of all medicines being developed are associated with personalized medicine strategies.

When it comes to cancer medicines, the number is even higher with potential personalized medicines representing 73 percent of the drugs being tested in that area. Because these treatments zero in on genes expressed only by cancer cells, they are often safer and more effective than chemotherapy, which kills both cancerous and healthy cells.

A new era

The Tufts’ study, which was conducted in 2015, also showed that researchers working to develop new drugs believed the number of personalized medicines in development would increase further by 69 percent by the year 2020.

By participating in clinical trials for personalized medicines, patients can help bring about a new era in medicine where physicians more commonly use molecular tests to determine which medical treatments will work best for each patient. By combining the data from those tests with an individual’s medical history, circumstances and values, health care providers will be able to develop targeted treatment and prevention plans and thereby move away from the one-size-fits all or trial-and-error medicine usually practiced today.