Doctors Don’t Treat Populations, They Treat Individual Patients

This week, Scott Gottlieb, MD Deputy Commissioner for Medical and Scientific Affairs at the Food and Drug Administration made an interesting speech before the 2006 Conference on Adaptive Trial Design in Washington, DC.Dr Gotlieb commented how today’s clinical trials are highly empirical. Drugs are tested on general populations for a response and a treatment effect that is statistically not likely to be a chance result. This approach is rigorous and focused, but inflexible. According to Dr. Gotlieb, “another problem with the empirical approach is that it yields statistical information about how large populations with the same or similar conditions are likely to respond to a treatment. But doctors don’t treat populations, they treat individual patients. Doctors need information about the characteristics that predict which patients are more likely to respond well, or suffer certain side effect. The empirical approach doesn’t tell doctors how to personalize their care to their individual patients.” This results in a highly empirical approach to the practice of medicine. Gone are the days of: Take two off these and call me in the morning. Gottlieb comments “Doctors prescribe treatments knowing full well that only a certain percentage of their patients will receive a benefit from any given medicine.” This approach is akin to: Take all of these and call me if you have a side-effect. 

But with the demands for personalized medicine and the advent of Pharmaco-genomics, there are potentially better alternatives. By enabling more trials to be adapted based on knowledge about gene and protein markers or patient characteristics, we can help predict whether patients will respond well to a new medicine. “These new approaches to clinical trials can result in trial designs that tell us more about safety and benefits of drugs, in potentially shorter time frames, exposing fewer people to experimental treatments, and resulting in clinical trials that may not only be more efficient but are more attractive to patients and their physicians to enroll in.” said Gottlieb. This is only a first step in the process to develop more adaptive clinical trials. This process will lead to more targeted therapies and in turn, Ii is my hope, more personal and personalized medicine.

Scroll to Top