New report outlines the science of drug-effects

3 December 2013

The UK charity Sense About Science (SaS) has released a new report on the science of drug side-effects.

Making Sense of Drug Safety Science explains why side-effects from taking drugs happen and what can be done about them. It notes that serious side-effects account for one in sixteen National Health Service (NHS) hospital admissions and up to 4% of hospital beds, demonstrating the magnitude of the problem - a major health (and economic) burden.
The report, produced in conjunction with the MRC-funded Centre for Drug Safety Science, offers a clear and succinct account of how the body metabolises drugs, how new drugs are investigated for toxicity and what can cause side-effects, including genetic factors.
Chief Pharmaceutical Officer Dr Keith Ridge commented: "We need to understand more about side effects and who will be at risk to use a wider number of existing drugs safely, develop new drugs more effectively, and allocate healthcare funds more efficiently. I welcome this guide to help demystify why side effects happen for the public, policy makers and clinical professionals".
Comment: Sense about Science works to equip people to make sense of science and evidence – something that the PHG Foundation considers an essential factor in making science work for health, especially in ensuring that policy professionals and other decision-makers can understand and evaluate many different forms of evidence appropriately.
Looking ahead, drug safety and efficacy is an area where the impact of emerging genomic knowledge and progress towards more personalised medicine are likely to be highly significant. Not only can testing for specific genetic variants identify patients for whom different doses or choices of drug are necessary (for example, patients with the HLA-B*5701 gene variant are susceptible to extreme adverse responses to the HIV therapeutic abacavir, as the report notes), but there is also increasing scope for stratification of clinical trial populations based on genotypic data in order to demonstrate safe and clinically useful effects for new (and failed old) drugs in specific population sub-groups. 

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