Though the idea of personalized therapeutics based on individual variation has existed for more than 4,000 years in India's traditional practice of Ayurveda medicine, the country has created a new national databank of genetic samples from about 15,000 unrelated individuals from its diverse geographic and linguistic subpopulations.
A case study involving Dr. Mitali Mukerji of the Institute for Genomics and Integrative Biology and Dr. Samir K. Brahmachari of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research has revealed that life-sciences company, Avesthagen Ltd, has announced a five-year, 32million-dollar project to genotype the country's entire Parsi population - about 69,000 people.
The Parsis, thought to be genetically homogenous, are feared to be at risk owing to their religious prohibition of marriage outside of the community.
The case study was a part of a major research led by researchers from the McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health (MRC), Toronto.
It suggested that the aim of the genome projects was to determine linkages between genes, disease and environmental factors, and to develop new therapies and diagnostics.
Such efforts may lead to potential new therapies for diseases like cancer and central nervous system disorders, which can be used to directly benefit the Parsi population, with an additional potential to be marketed globally where appropriate.
One of the interviewees in the study revealed that up to 13 per cent of Northern India's population did not respond to up to 30 essential drugs.
If the non-responder cases can be explained by genomic variation, better-tailored treatments could potentially be devised, says the research paper.
"Developing countries have much to gain from genomic medicine and can least afford to waste precious resources on ineffective therapies and diagnostics," Nature magazine quoted project leader Beatrice Seguin, assistant professor at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, as saying.
"Benefits of this emerging science cannot be an exclusive luxury reserved for wealthier industrialized countries. Instead, it must be universally advanced by developed and developing countries alike to prevent an increased widening of already huge difference in global health care quality," she said.
Prof. Abdallah S. Daar, the project's principal investigator, a professor of public health sciences at the University of Toronto and co-director of the MRC's Program on Life Sciences, Ethics and Policy, says: "The world has reached an historic moment on the path to genomic medicine - the point where theory is about to be translated into practice."
He adds: "Developing countries cannot rely on the altruism of western economic interests to address specific health needs of their populations. And purchasing health products from the West will only contribute to continued dependency of developing countries on weathier northern neighbours."