World's first race-specific medicine has been developed to resolve the controversy over whether black people are genetically different from whites.
BiDil, a drug combination for treating heart failure, has proved three times more effective in black patients than it has for their white counterparts, its manufacturer claims. If approved by the FDA, it would
be the first drug ever to be licensed for use by a single ethnic group.
The results of clinical trials are testament to BiDil's value. In trials, it improved survival rates among black people who had suffered heart failure by 47 per cent. In white patients, the figure was only 15 per cent.
BiDil works by boosting the level of nitrous oxide in the walls of the body's arteries and capillaries, allowing them to expand and thereby reducing the body's blood pressure. In turn, this reduces overall
strain on the heart. It proved more effective in African-American patients because they have naturally lower levels of nitrous oxide in their blood and long-term high blood pressure is usually the cause of
In contrast, the leading causes of heart failure among white people are clogged arteries and damage to the cardiac muscle caused by previous heart attacks. The issue of whether biological differences can be
determined by one's ethnic origins is a long-standing one, and it raises a number of legal and ethical questions.
There is a powerful lobby which is in favour of racial profiling when it comes to drug development, backed by evidence that suggests a degree of truth in the ethnicity theory. The reasons for the difference in
response to a drug are unclear although it is thought that genes play a major role.
Type-2 diabetes is more common among people from the Indian subcontinent and is thought to be due to a combination of genetic factors and environmental ones.
It has also been shown that cases of increased heart weight - an abnormality that can cause heart attacks, heart failure and stroke - is up to three times more prevalent among African-Americans than whites.
These exciting results suggest the extent to which even the early stages of heart disease could be prevented in the African-American community by prevention and treatment of hypertension.