Exploring emerging technologies using metaphors - A study of orphan drugs and pharmacogenomics

Wouter Boon*, Ellen Moors

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Due to uncertainties of several aspects of emerging health technologies, there is a need to anticipate these developments early. A first step would be to gather information and develop future visions about the technology. This paper introduces metaphor analysis as a novel way to do this. Specifically, we study the future of pharmacogenomics by comparing this technology with orphan drugs, which are more established and often act as a model with comparable (economic, research organisation, etc.) characteristics. The analysis consists of describing the dominant metaphors used and structurally exploring (dis)similarities between pharmacogenomics and orphan drugs developments. This comparison leads to lessons that can be learnt for the emerging pharmacogenomics future. We carried out a comprehensive literature review, extracting metaphors in a structured way from different areas of the drug research and development pipeline. The paper argues that (1) there are many similarities between orphan drugs and pharmacogenomics, especially in terms of registration, and social and economic impacts; (2) pharmacogenomics developments are regarded both as a future 'poison' and a 'chance', whereas orphan drugs are seen as a 'gift', and at the same time as a large 'problem'; and (3) metaphor analysis proves to be a tool for creating prospective images of pharmacogenomics and other emerging technologies. © 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1915-1927
Number of pages13
JournalSocial Science & Medicine
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2008


  • Emergent technologies
  • Metaphors
  • Orphan drugs
  • Pharmacogenomics


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