Personalized medicine, Gendered medicine, Clean medicine… what we’ve been reading this week at Brand Genetics
Trends like personalization, going “clean” or embracing (or eschewing) gender aren’t new, but the momentum they’ve picked up is both impressive and powerful. In the worlds of food, beauty, personal care, fashion and even transportation, these trends have become dominant themes and have been overwhelmingly validated by the successes of behemoths like Netflix, Nike and Chanel, as well as niche players like Fenty, Drunk Elephant and Girlfriend Collective.
But one world that has seemed somewhat unaffected by many of these global shifts is that of medicine — that is, until now. This week we look at how these trends are bleeding into healthcare and medicine through the emergence of:
From food to home care, ‘clean’ movements are taking over, practically criminalizing the artificial in favour of the natural. Yet few second-guess what’s actually in the medications we use so regularly.
A recent Fast Company article suggests that “75% of common pills are filled with inactive ingredients like fillers, dyes, parabens, phthalates, talc, lactose, and gluten.” That’s why entrepreneurs such as David Johnson are popping up, challenging the idea that such fillers — while necessary to contain and deliver the medications — have to be synthetic. Billed as “the cleaner, healthier, and homeopathic alternative for over-the-counter medication,” his brand Genexa swaps out artificial ingredients for more natural alternatives you can recognize (and pronounce), like organic rice bran extract. We do it in all other categories, so why not medicine?
It’s becoming increasingly clear that different people respond to different medications and treatments in different ways. Yet drug companies continue to test and approve drugs for ‘the average person,’ ignoring this individuality. As a result, drug efficacy can be shockingly low, as little as 25–50% for arthritis, Alzheimer’s and cancer.
To help address this problem, doctors and scientists are working on a variety of genetic and blood tests — aimed at flagging key genes and key proteins and metabolites, respectively — that can help guide the appropriate medication and dosages for any individual, as well as detect clues of oncoming disease, based on their specific genetic profile or the proteins and metabolites present in their blood.
While still a long way off, this approach of ‘pharmagenomics’ could become the norm in hospitals, GP surgeries, and pharmacies before we know it — helping us transition from more reactive-based healthcare to more proactive, preventative solutions.
A subset of personalised medicine is the subject of sex and gender. While there’s been a recent proliferation of sex-targeted health innovations — for example the rise of FemTech, with start-ups like Lola and Natural Cycles, and Hims vitamins and supplements for men — when it comes to medications, everyone is typically prescribed the same drugs and same doses. This seems somewhat baffling considering how clearly different men and women are when it comes to their bodies, hormones and patterns of responsiveness.
As explained in a recent Science Focus article, men and women used to be seen as interchangeable when it came to clinical trials (especially since hormonal fluctuations accompanying women’s periods raise trial costs, making male trials more preferable), however there is significant evidence that certain medications affect men and women differently, and that sometimes women take longer to digest medications than men, influencing what a proper dose might be (take Ambien for example). Thus, scientists are urging researchers and pharmaceutical companies to take gender into account when designing studies and promoting medications — hoping that in the (near) future, we will see a rise in gendered medications and treatment plans.
The HX learnings?
The world of health, just like other categories, is beginning to evolve and expand. Regardless of how you feel about these three specific movements, there’s no denying that health is an important part of people’s lives, and as our lives continue to change, so too must our approaches and solutions to health.
But no category is immune or impermeable to global shifts in behaviour and preferences — so what might this mean for your world? How can you look to innovations and solutions from other industries that address evolving individual/societal needs and adapt them for your own?
Liz Thompson is a lead consultant at Brand Genetics, an insight and innovation agency specialising in human-centred insight and innovation. She is an insight-led, human-centric strategist who uses her interest and passion for understanding consumer behaviour to spot new business & innovation opportunities.