Pharmacotherapy based on individual patient characteristics such as genetic makeup, offers many potential benefits towards more effective treatment of a patients’ disease. However, it also involves many challenges. Genetic characteristics are notably only part of the puzzle to treat a disease effectively with medicines. Other factors such as age, genus, eating habit, other concomitant disease and the use of various medicines simultaneously also play a role. This is the outcome of RIVM National Institute for Public Health and the Environment research into the opportunities and challenges of personalised medicine, performed by t order of the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport.

Personalised medicine (PM), treatment based on the patient’s unique characteristics, is relatively new. PM is strongly developing because the influence of individual characteristics on the development of diseases and the efficacy of medicines is becoming more evident.  Due to their genetic makeup, some people are at greater risk for severe side effects when using specific medicines. Others are more sensitive to the efficacy of medicines and need a different dose than generally recommended. The genetic characteristics of tumours in cancer may also differ per patient, which offers opportunities to fine tune the therapy based on tumour characteristics. 

One of the challenges is to optimise the use of all available data and patients’ characteristics for further research. The same is true for the translation of research results into clinical practice. Also, the education of doctors and pharmacists must prepare for all developments in PM. In addition, special attention needs to be paid to privacy and ownership of patient data as well as to the suitability of the Dutch health care system for successful implementation of PM.