Almost 13 years after the map of the human genome was published to great fanfare in Science and Nature, it’s fair to ask where all the miracle drugs are. The 10 leading causes of death have changed very little since 2000. Life expectancy has risen by 1.9 years, but much of the change is a result of improved health among minorities rather than pharmaceutical breakthroughs.
What happened? Researchers started with an oversimplified view of the genome’s role in human health.
“The genome provided a full parts list for the first time in biology, which was a huge contribution to biology and also drug discovery, but it didn’t describe how things fit together or worked together, and that was a big problem,” says University of California–San Francisco pharmacologist Brian Shoichet.
Another excuse is time. Since developing a drug takes at least 10 years, it’s arguably unfair to expect many breakthroughs already. That line of reasoning, however, forecasts an imminent pharmaceutical revolution. I’d suggest that you not hold your breath, in part because researchers spent the first few years after 2000 chasing shadows.