To provide aid to the African- Americans suffering from heart failures in the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration approved a drug that would help them treat the disproportionately affected heart condition. The drug, the first race-based medicine, was received with much hype and appreciation. The drug was named BiDil and was referred to as a breakthrough drug for the African-Americans.
However, often the question arises that what makes this particular drug race-based? Jonathan Kahn, then a newly appointed professor of law and biology at Northeastern University, answered that the answer to that question was still uncertain. Eventually, he started to dig deeper, studying the various layers and tried to find out how the drug became racialised.
Kahn was finally able to answer the question in his book, “Race in a Bottle: The Story of BiDil and Racialised Medicine in a Post-Genomic Age”, published in 2012. He found out that the drug was sold out specifically to the African-Americans for the purpose of extending the patent protection for the drug. The reason why this drug was approved by the FDA for black people was to prove that black people are different biologically. This was found out to be scientifically inaccurate and incredibly dangerous seen from a historical point of view.
Kahn says, “There is no genetic basis for racial differences. It’s a complexly constructed social and political category that doesn’t map on to biological differences.”
African-Americans suffer from such conditions due to the stress from systematic racism, not being able to get access to proper healthcare, heightened exposure to pollutants, cultural distrust of medical professions, and other factors which clearly do not refer to any special genetic differences in them. However, the government chose to market such drugs to continue social injustices in place of implementing political actions- solely for the purpose of making the venture lucrative.
Kahn who has expertise in a variety of subjects like history, science, bioethics, law, etc. is now studying the pros and cons of the Precision Medical Initiative launched in 2015 by the Obama administration. Millions of people have been appointed to study genetic information and health to accelerate genomic research. Kahn is looking forward to decoding how race is getting entangled in the field of medicine.