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Color blind

Gregory A Petsko

Genome Biology 2004, 5:119  doi:10.1186/gb-2004-5-12-119

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Ethnic Drugs and Ethnic Patents

Jonathan Kahn   (2005-01-11 18:02)  Hamline University School of Law email

I would like to offer a few observations about Greg Petsko’s article “Color Blind,” regarding the drug BiDil. NitroMed, the corporate owner of the rights to BiDil, recently submitted an Amended New Drug Application (ANDA) to the Food and Drug Administration seeking approval of BiDil as a race-specific drug to treat heart failure in African Americans. The ANDA is based on the recently published results of “A-HeFT” – the African-American Heart Failure Trial. There are some specific issues, however, that need to be clarified about this story: First, as designed, these trials say NOTHING about whether BiDil works differently in African-Americans than anyone else. All they establish is that BiDil helps people with heart failure - period. Not even the investigators claim the data shows it works differently in African-Americans. Second, it is important to note that BiDil is merely a combination of two generic drugs that have been recommended for years to treat heart failure - regardless of race. The most plausible reason it is being put forward as a race-specific drug is because there is a race specific patent underlying it -- that is commerce not science at work. The data do not support any assertion regarding potentially different frequencies of certain genetic variations in African Americans versus Caucasians. Making such a claim based on these trials would be like saying just because all subjects in a trial happened to be from Massachusetts then the drug works only in people from Massachusetts. That sounds absurd, of course, but the only reason the race-based claim sounds less absurd is because of the readiness of people in society to glom onto supposed proof of race-based genetic differences. Much greater skepticism is called for before making such claims.

Competing interests

None declared


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