Trade, foreign policy, diplomacy and health

5. Genomics Knowledge

Halla Thorsteinsdottir, Abdallah S Daar, Richard D Smith, Peter A Singer

Potential benefits of genomics

  • Clinical diagnostics and predictive testing
  • Identifying new treatment
  • Developing preventive measures
  • Direct economic benefits

The human genome is the basis for developing a variety of products to improve the identification, treatment and prevention of ill health.

1. Identification of disease genes can have applications in clinical diagnostics and predictive testing. For example, the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique, a highly sensitive and accurate genome-based diagnostic method that multiplies the DNA of a pathogen making it easier to detect, can be simplified for use in poor countries to diagnose infectious diseases, such as leishmaniasis and dengue fever, more rapidly, accurately and at less cost.

2. New treatment can be developed by identifying new drug targets or tailoring drugs to specific genetic characteristics of individuals. Eg differential drug absorption can influence dosing levels and side effects.

3. In developed preventive measures, genomics can, for example, help identify multiple vaccine targets, useful in developing vaccines for organisms with a complex multi-host life cycle, such as the malaria parasite.

Genomics will also be a significant contributor to the biotechnology sector, which has major income generating potential, expected to grow from US$2.2 billion in 1999 to US$8.2 billion in 2004. This will not only benefit developed countries. Eg Cuba, investing heavily since the 1980's in biotechnology, produces several successful products, including the world's only meningitis B vaccine and holding at least 400 patents in the biotech field.

However, to reap direct economic benefit from genomics, countries will have to be active participants in the development and manufacture of genomics products. Those countries that will benefit the most from genomics are those that have appropriate health products to improve the health of their populations and who are active in developing and supplying those products.