Pharmacogenomic technologies aim to redirect drug development to increase safety and efficacy of individual care. There is much hope that their implementation in the drug development process will help respond to population health needs, particularly in developing countries. However, there is also fear that novel pharmacogenomic drugs will remain too costly, be designed for the needs of the wealthy nations, and so constitute an unnecessary "luxury" for most populations. In this paper, we analyse the promise that pharmacogenomic technologies hold for improving global public health and identify strategies and challenges associated with their implementation.
This paper evaluates the capacity of pharmacogenomic technologies to meet six criteria described by the University of Toronto Joint Centre for Bioethics group: 1) impact of the technology, 2) technology appropriateness, 3) capacity to address local burdens, 4) feasibility to be implemented in reasonable time, 5) capacity to reduce the knowledge gap, and 6) capacity for indirect benefits. We argue that the implementation of pharmacogenomic technologies in the drug development process can positively impact population health. However, this positive impact depends on how and for which purposes the technologies are used. We discuss the potential of these technologies to stimulate drug discovery in the case of rare (orphan diseases) or neglected diseases, but also to reduce acute adverse drug reactions in infectious disease treatment and prevention, which promises to improve global public health.
The implementation of pharmacogenomic technologies may lead to the development of drugs that appear to be a "luxury" for populations in need of numerous interventions that are known to have a demonstrable impact on population health (e.g., secure access to potable water, reduction of social inequities, health education). However, our analysis shows that pharmacogenomic technologies do have the potential to redirect drug development and distribution so as to improve the health of vulnerable populations. Strategies should thus be developed to better direct their implementation towards meeting the needs and responding to the realities of populations of the developing world (i.e., social, cultural and political acceptability, and local health burdens), making pharmacogenomic technologies a necessary "luxury" for global public health.