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BiDil: A Case Study of Racial Medicine

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BiDil: A Case Study of Racial Medicine

By Lisa Moldan


In 2005, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first race-specific drug, BiDil, for marketization. Patented by the pharmaceutical company NitroMed, BiDil is to be prescribed exclusively to African Americans for the purposes of treating and preventing heart disease and failure. As a result of its release, debates erupted over the legitimacy of the research and approval processes, the advancement and application of the science of pharmacogenetics[1], whether racial medicine would be an advancement or setback in the efforts to equalize health care access and health status amongst races, whether or not the meanings of race would change for the worse, the role of the citizen, and more. 

This website details the development, approval, and marketing of BiDil, as well as the layers of controversy surrounding it, including competing stakeholders, systems of knowledge, and strategies. Three primary controversies manifest themselves: First, the legitimacy pharmacogenetics and racial medicines is a highly disputed topic. Second, the decision making processes and power dynamics related to the development, approval, and marketing of BiDil are of concern, especially relative to the advancement of the profit-maximizing agendas of pharmaceutical companies. Third, the social impacts of racial medicine are contested and uncertain, especially those relating to the meaning of race and the health disparities between races. Principally, this website will project a BiDil-opposed position, highlighting the convoluted, undemocratic evolution of BiDil and the society-wide, negative externalities of racialized medicines.  

Due to BiDil's poor marketing, racialized medicines have thus far existed below the radar of most citizens, activist groups, and the like. It has essentailly failed as the poster child for racial medicines. But, scholars keen on the research predict that more racialized medicines are on the way, and citizens need to be informed about the nature of these drugs; that is, the fundamentally unequal power structures and discourses which they perpetuate and their potential to exacerbate racial health disparities in a number of ways. Citizens are encouraged to make conscious consumer choices against BiDil. Rather than specifically targeting the production and availability of BiDil and racial medicines, citizens should put effort into addressing the real social inequalities that exacerbate health disparities like access to equal housing, education, employment, preventive health care, and political institutions.


[1] Iohom, Fitzgerald, & Cunningham (2004) define pharmacogenetics as “the study of variability in drug response as a result of heredity factors.” Racial medicine is one facet of pharmacogenetics. The work of the Human Genome Project has lead to this facet of biological and medical research and application.

Figure 1: Racial Collage
Anyone could develop heart diseases. Are racial medicines really the answer to health disparities?

Last updated:  5.3.10


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