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You really can't understand all the excitement surrounding personalized medicine without knowing a little bit about Gleevec. And once you know the full story of Gleevec, you really can’t help but see much of that excitement as wild and even dangerous exaggeration.

Personalized medicine (sometimes it’s also called “precision medicine”) works by tailoring health care to our genomes. Traditional, one-size-fits-all medicine, the criticism goes, treats us all as if we’re the same, but personalized medicine tracks the molecular-genetic differences between us to deliver the right treatment, to the right patient, at the right time. The approach has gotten its most purchase in the management of cancers and rare diseases, but champions foresee a future where it spreads out across all facets of health care, revolutionizing the treatment of everything from diabetes and cardiovascular disease to asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. A big part of the enthusiasm is economic in nature. Rather than sending patients off on costly and frustrating trial-and-error odysseys, advocates of precision medicine see its ability to find the right gene-treatment matches from the beginning of care...