Targeting Therapies: Exploring the Cultural and Normative Dimensions of 'Targeted' Approaches to Biomedicine and Public Health

Project Details


The Republic of Ireland (RoI) and the United Kingdom (UK) are leaders in biomedicine and public health. Both emphasise the importance of therapeutic innovation for economies and the health of populations. In particular, the RoI and UK have committed, symbolically and financially, to 'targeted' approaches in healthcare research and delivery. By these, we mean for instance: drugs aimed at very specific kinds of disease (e.g. certain cancers) which might respond only to people with particular genetic variants; psychological therapy services tailored to specific kinds of populations (e.g. ex-armed forces personnel); and, population-level interventions that stratify and construct publics in response to existing and emerging forms of illness (e.g. restrictions on the movements of groups regarded as highly vulnerable to COVID-19).

At the same time as similarities between the RoI and UK provides a substrate for comparative work, differences exist in the values and norms underlying intervention development and delivery. These divergences could become more pronounced following differential responses to COVID-19 and in light of Brexit. Examining them in relation to the design, delivery, and implications of 'targeted' biomedicine and public health will help us to better understand the dynamics between science, healthcare, and society. We will take cues from existing work on, for instance, personalised and precision (bio)medicine and move in exciting new directions. While research from the humanities on biomedicine and public health often keeps these domains apart, our analysis will seek to look at the commonalities between them.

Our Network will draw together approaches from bioethics, gender studies, history, law, medical humanities, political philosophy, and science studies (among others) to explore the cultural and normative dimensions of 'targeted' approaches and interventions in biomedicine and public health. Through comparative analysis, we will explore how different cultural, historical, legal, scientific, and healthcare contexts interact in the shaping and deployment of 'targeted' biomedicine and public health. In other words, we will look at how societal histories, traditions, and legal processes affects how scientific research is funded and conducted, and how healthcare is prioritised and delivered. In turn, we will examine how law, ethics, and cultures are impacted and contoured through targeted approaches to health.

Our work-plan has been designed to foster new relationships between and across the investigators (who have not previously worked together), collaborators, wider Network members, and other stakeholders in the RoI and UK (e.g. other humanities scholars, biomedical and public health scientists, life sciences industry, patient groups, wider publics). These relationships will be scaffolded by and enhanced through five Network workshops and associated public engagement. Central to the success of the Network and its capacity-building is the intellectual and financial support that will be provided to humanities ECRs in the RoI and UK in the form of mentorship, opportunities to present their research, introductions to (non-)academic networks, and more.

Outputs from the Network will include peer-reviewed papers aimed at different humanities audiences. We will also seek to engage policymakers with our work, as well as biomedical and public health scientists and healthcare professionals (e.g. through invitations to workshops, engagement events, and one-to-one meetings). The investigators are committed to engagement with wider publics, and will achieve this through (e.g.) public-facing blogs, and public panel discussions and similar events associated with the Network workshops. The resources of Edinburgh's Wellcome Trust-supported Centre for Biomedicine, Self & Society will be drawn upon to add value to engagement activities.
Effective start/end date1/12/2231/05/24


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