The development and application of drugs and therapies has so far been based on the principle of “one size fits all” for mostly quite large groups of patients. In contrast, “personalised” medicine leads to a much more nuanced approach due to new findings on genetic profiles and biomarkers. For example, people who appear to have the same disease react very differently to one and the same drug due to their individual characteristics: while one person, despite a high dosage, will not benefit at all, another person’s health may improve, even at a low dosage.
Increasing knowledge about individual differences at the molecular level is nourishing hopes for targeted and effective treatment strategies that avoid burdensome side effects. While this is a welcome development, the doubts and questions cannot be overlooked:
- Does personalised medicine benefit the patient and what are the corresponding obligations for both patient and physician?
- Can every patient receive the most effective therapy in the future?
- Does personalised medicine bring about a change in the doctor-patient relationship?
- In what ways will personalised medicine affect healthcare costs?
- Will the effects lead to an overburdening of the solidarity system of health insurance?
- What are the challenges for pharmaceutical research?
With its Annual Meeting, the German Ethics Council focused on ethical and social questions of personalised medicine, placing the patient at the centre of attention. Against the backdrop of the current state of research, physicians, scientists and humanities scholars, representatives of patients and the economy, and the public were invited to discuss urgent questions of future medical care.