Global Alliance for Pharmacogenomics Expands

Five New Collaborative Projects Will Advance Understanding of Genetic Factors that Influence the Safety and Effectiveness of Medicines


November 10, 2008

In April 2008, leaders at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Center for Genomic Medicine in Japan formed the Global Alliance for Pharmacogenomics. Now scientists from the two groups have agreed to five new collaborative projects.

The new projects take advantage of ongoing studies by the NIH Pharmacogenetics Research Network (PGRN, /Research/FeaturedPrograms/PGRN/) and their collaborators, along with the Center for Genomic Medicine (CGM,​) at the RIKEN institute in Japan.  

Scientists in the PGRN will combine their knowledge of drug responses with the CGM’s scientific expertise in high-throughput genomic technologies. The long-term goal of the collaboration is to understand how genes affect individual responses to medicines so that doctors are better able to tailor treatments to each patient. The agencies supporting the research, NIH and RIKEN, are committed to returning the research results to society.

All of the Global Alliance for Pharmacogenomics projects are currently genome-wide association studies, which analyze and compare the sequences of thousands of genes simultaneously. As with the original five projects (see /News/Results/pages/GAP-JAPAN04142008.aspx), the five new projects, which are described below, aim to identify genetic factors associated with different responses to medicines.

  • Asthma. People respond very differently to common asthma medications known as inhaled b-agonists. This project seeks to uncover a genetic basis to explain and predict these individual reactions. Ideally, this knowledge could help doctors tailor asthma treatments for each patient.

  • Breast Cancer—Preventing the Disease. This project seeks genetic explanations for why some women develop breast cancer despite taking drugs designed to prevent it (tamoxifen or raloxifene). The study has the potential to pinpoint genes linked with development of the disease as well as those associated with individual responses to the drugs. In addition, the investigation may help determine which patients are most likely to benefit from preventive therapy.

  • Breast Cancer—Preventing Recurrence. Some breast cancer survivors take tamoxifen for several years to prevent a recurrence. But tamoxifen can cause hot flashes so serious that some patients stop taking it. This research seeks to identify a full set of genomic markers that can predict which women are most likely to experience severe hot flashes.  The work could also identify new ways to treat hot flashes.

  • Major Depression. Many people with major depression can be treated effectively with selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor (SSRI) drugs. Others fail to respond. By focusing on two common SSRI medications (fluoxetine and paroxetine), this study explores genetic reasons for the varying drug responses. The results could lead to new and improved therapies, more tailored prescribing of existing drugs, and, potentially, to molecular explanations of mood and anxiety disorders.
  • Prostate Cancer. This project aims to identify genes that can predict serious side effects in patients receiving drugs for metastatic prostate cancer and to understand how the disease progresses. The ultimate goal  is to determine whether a specific combination of medicines--adding bevacizumab to the traditional docetaxel/prednisone therapy--will lead to longer overall survival of men with advanced prostate cancer.  

More information about the Global Alliance for Pharmacogenomics, including a news release about its launch, the letter of intent that created it, and a list of research centers and investigators that provide DNA samples for its studies is available at /Research/FeaturedPrograms/PGRN/GAP/.