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Do different medicines work for everyone? © Getty Images

Do different medicines work for everyone?

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Different people react to drugs in various ways, so your cold medicine may not be as effective a cure as you would think.

Asked by: Trudi Bryon, Wakefield


Many of us find that medicines like painkillers don’t seem to work for us. Even when they do, it’s tempting to wonder if the ailment just went away by itself.

Over the years, thousands of clinical trials have been carried out to gauge the effectiveness of drugs. But in 2003, a senior executive with pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline made headlines by admitting that more than 90 per cent of drugs only work in 30 to 50 per cent of people. In reality, the situation is even more perplexing, as clinical trials can’t reveal if just some people get all the benefit, or if everyone benefits but only some of the time. Some believe better understanding of the genetics of patients will lead to ‘personalised medicine’, but so far this has only helped with a handful of drugs.

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Robert is a science writer and visiting professor of science at Aston University.


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