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Gene chip for drug reaction

London, June 25 (Reuters): The era of personalised medicine came a step closer today with the launch of the world’s first “gene chip” for testing how people will react to drugs.

Today’s medicines are a hit-and-miss affair. Drugs can produce adverse reactions in one person and may have no effect at all on another.

But Switzerland’s Roche Holding, the world’s largest diagnostics company, hopes to remove the guesswork with a test that looks at variations in two genes which determine how people react to drugs for common illnesses such as depression, cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure.

“At first it will be used by reference labs,” said a Roche spokesman.

Following expected approval by US and European regulatory authorities it will be available in other laboratories which have special equipment to read gene chips.

Some 10 per cent of Caucasians and 20 per cent of Asian populations are poor metabolisers of drugs, while a smaller proportion of people are ultra-fast.

Both groups are at risk if given standard doses, with poor metabolisers — whose bodies retain medicines longer than normal — likely to suffer significant adverse reactions and ultra-fast metabolisers in danger of not receiving enough drug.

The Roche test looks for variations in genes known as CYP2D6 and CYP2C19.

“There is an increasing awareness of the important role these genes play in metabolising an estimated 20-25 per cent of drugs already on the market,” said Greg Heath, head of Roche Molecular Diagnostics Clinical Genomics Business.

He added that targeting use of these drugs could improve their therapeutic value and reduce healthcare costs.

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