FDA Approves First Racially Targeted Drug

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved BiDil, a drug created especially to treat heart failure among blacks. This has set off the usual round of debates as to whether “race” even exists.

FDA Approves First Racially Targeted Drug (AP)

Now that the FDA has for the first time approved a drug specifically for blacks, medical experts are sure to debate the implications, with some questioning the validity of medical research that focuses on race. “There are many, many who claim these use of (racial) categories may not have any biological meaning, only social meaning, and basing medical decisions on them may be problematic,” said David Magnus, director of the Stanford Medical Center for Biomedical Ethics.

For example, Magnus said, researchers could also look at whether a particular drug worked more effectively on Catholics than Protestants. The more categories explored, the more likely one can find data showing that one category of people is helped more than the others when it comes to a particular medicine, he said. “But the more we know genetically, the more we know these social categories don’t correspond to genetic groups,” Magnus said.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the drug BiDil on Thursday for the treatment of heart failure in black Americans, calling it a step toward “the promise of personalized medicine.”

In sociology circles, the question of “race” is a hugely controversial subject. Biologists, too, argue that there is no quantifiable thing in “race” because the range of genetic variation within a given group always overlaps with others. Social scientists use that to argue that “race” is a mere social construct rather than a reality.

Regardless, there definitely seem to be quantifiable medical differences between racial groups even when controlling for lifestyle factors. If they have the ability to do so, it is incumbent upon physicians and medical researchers to address that fact. If the heart drugs designed to help caucasians work less well for blacks and they can design a drug that works better for blacks, it would be incomprehensibly cruel not to prescribe it.

“Race” is a crude category to be sure. One presumes that our understanding of genetic differences will improve over time and our ability to target the incredible variation within the species will become much more precise than “black person” versus “white person.” Until then, though, this strikes me as a good first step.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Scott in CA says:

    I am always astounded that liberals can argue that race does not exist while at the same time demanding special priveledges for people based on race. Perhaps this is why they are psychotic.

  2. Some day, one would hope sooner rather than later, meds will be able to be formulated for the individual’s genetic make up. There are some medications I have taken in the past that have not exactly done what the were supposed to do – like the pain killer that did nothing!

    I’m no scientist, but maybe it is the ammount of melatonin in the skin that has something to do with how these heart meds work. [resists making any Michael Jackson jokes]

  3. leelu says:

    …so this Mingus guy runs a center for “Bio-Medical Ethics”, and suggests we look at Catholics vs Protestants to find differences in the efficacy of a drug? I’m not a geneticist, but isn’t it *possible* that this particular type of heart failure could be like sickle cell anemia, which has been pretty well linked (dunno if genetically or not) w/ black people.

    Or is it now politically incorrect to treat more blacks than whites for SCA just because they’re black… and have it? Would he think we need to treat more white people for it to achieve parity?? Or fewer blacks, just because whites don’t suffer from it as much???

    What about, if it’s an effective and appropriate treatement, administer it?

    Please tell me this guy isn’t an M.D.