Govt should Swiftly Set Safety Rules for Promising Methods of Treatment

Medical treatment using genetic information has been making remarkable progress. The establishment of rules is essential for the proper use of genomic medicine.

Genomic medicine aims to utilize genetic information for the treatment of diseases. It is hoped that genomic analysis will be able to identify the causes of diseases and lead to the development of therapeutic drugs.

The genomic medicine law has been enacted to promote such medicine. The purpose of this law is to promote research and development to bring about medical treatment tailored to the characteristics of individual patients’ bodies and medical conditions. The law also calls for the government to formulate a basic plan and take necessary fiscal measures.

In recent years, genomic medicine has become an important area of research worldwide, with many countries focusing their efforts on this field. Japan too has been working on such research, but has lagged behind in establishing relevant legislation. It is hoped that Japan will take this opportunity to put in place a system that will allow those who wish to receive genomic medicine to do so with peace of mind.

Cancer treatment is one area in which the expectations of progress are especially high. For some cancers, it has become possible to select the drugs that are likeliest to be effective by examining the genetic mutations that cause the disease. If such a method becomes more widespread, it should be possible to avoid a situation in which patients needlessly suffer the side effects of ineffective anticancer drugs.

It will also likely be possible in the future to examine a patient’s susceptibility to cancers and other diseases and use the results for prevention through periodic testing.

However, if disease-related genetic information is communicated to a third party, it could lead to discrimination. There is concern that people may suffer disadvantages in contexts such as marriage, employment and insurance if information about their genetic susceptibility to cancer gets out.

The genomic medicine law clearly calls for the protection of genetic information and the prevention of unjust discrimination. However, there are no penalties, leaving the legislation’s effectiveness open to doubt.

In the immediate future, there is an urgent need to examine specific ideas and measures to address the issue of what cases legally constitute discrimination and how to respond to actual cases of discrimination.

The issue of genetics concerns not only individuals but also their family members. This is because if an individual’s genetic information is tested and the risk of diseases is found, there is a possibility that other family members may have the same risk as well. Medical and other institutions must be very careful in their management of genetic information.

It is important to disseminate correct knowledge about genetics throughout society. The government and medical professionals should work to deepen understanding of genomic medicine.

Another issue is the lack of experts to support individuals and their families who undergo testing. Some people are perplexed when they learn their genetic information. It is hoped that the government will swiftly develop human resources such as counselors and other personnel who can offer consultations in such cases.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 5, 2023)