The Troubling Persistence of Race in Pharmacogenomics



This article is concerned about what may be happening to race and medicine in the “meantime” between today's clinical realities and the promised land of pharmacogenomics where the need for using race in medicine is supposed to fade away. It argues that previous debates over the use of race in medicine are being side-stepped as race is being reconfigured from a “crude surrogate” for genetic variation into a purportedly viable placeholder for variable drug response — to be used here and now until the specific genetic underpinnings of drug response are more fully understood. Embracing the trope of “promise” in pharmacogenomics alongside the idea of using race as a useful interim proxy for genetic variation raises concerns that new diagnostic and therapeutic interventions may reflect or be mapped upon existing social categories of race, class, gender, and ethnicity in a harmful or dangerous manner. At the most basic level, the politics of the meantime in pharmacogenomics may be promoting the scientifically unjustified and socially dangerous recasting of race as a social and historical construct into a reified genetic category.