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The Drugs Don't Work

Adam Hedgecoe, Paul Martin

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This article examines one particular set of technologies arising from developments in human genetics, those aimed at improving the targeting, design and use of conventional small molecule drugs - pharmacogenetics. Much of the debate about the applications and consequences of pharmacogenetics has been highly speculative, since little or no working technology is yet on the market. This article provides a novel analysis of the development of pharmacogenetics, and the social and ethical issues it raises, based on the sociology of technological expectations. In particular, it outlines how two alternative visions for the development of the technology are being articulated and embedded in a range of heterogeneous discourses, artefacts, actor strategies and practices, including: competing scientific research agendas, experimental technologies, emerging industrial structures and new ethical discourses. Expectations of how pharmacogenetics might emerge in each of these arenas are actively shaping the trajectory of this nascent technology and its potential socio-economic consequences.