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Vol. 12, No. 3, 2009
Issue release date: February 2009
Public Health Genomics 2009;12:170–179

Pharmacogenomics and the Challenge of Health Disparities

Lee S.S.
Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics, Stanford University Medical School, Palo Alto, Calif., USA

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This paper examines emerging technologies and recent research on population differences in pharmacogenomics and the perspectives of scientists, community advocates, policymakers, and social critics on the use of race as a proxy for genetic variation. The discussion focuses on how recent developments in genomic science impact social understandings of racial difference and the public health goal to eliminate ongoing health disparities among racially identified groups. This paper examines how factors such as governmental policies – requiring the use of racial and ethnic categories in genetic research and increasing interest in identifying untapped racial market niches by the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries – and weak governmental oversight of race-based therapeutics converge to create an ‘infrastructure of racialization’ that may alter the vision of personalized medicine that has been so highly anticipated. This paper argues that significant public investment in pharmacogenomics requires careful consideration of the emerging discourse that tethers racial justice to notions of racial biology and discusses the social and ethical implications for the pendulum shift towards a geneticization of race in drug development.

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