Genetic factors contribute to the phenotype of drug response, but the translation of pharmacogenetic outcomes into drug discovery, drug development or clinical practice has proved to be surprisingly disappointing. Despite significant progress in pharmacogenetic research, only a few drugs, such as cetuximab, dasatinib, maraviroc and trastuzumab, require a pharmacogenetic test before being prescribed. There are several gaps that limit the application of pharmacogenetics based upon the complex nature of the drug response itself. First, pharmacogenetic tests could be more clinically applicable if they included a comprehensive survey of variation in the human genome and took into account the multigenic nature of many phenotypes of drug disposition and response. Unfortunately, much of the existing research in this area has been hampered by limitations in study designs and the nonoptimal selection of gene variants. Secondly, although responses to drugs can be influenced by the environment, only fragmentary information is currently available on how the interplay between genetics and environment affects drug response. Third, the use of a pharmacogenetic test as a standard of care for drug therapy has to overcome significant scientific, economic, commercial, political and educational barriers, among others, in order for clinically useful information to be effectively communicated to practitioners and patients. Meanwhile, the lack of efficacy is in this process is quite as costly as drug toxicity, especially for very expensive drugs, and there is a widespread need for clinically and commercially robust pharmacogenetic testing to be applied. In this complex scenario, therapeutic drug monitoring of parent drugs and/or metabolites, alone or combined with available pharmacogenetic tests, may be an alternative or complementary approach when attempts are made to individualize dosing regimen, maximize drug efficacy and enhance drug safety with certain drugs and populations (e.g. antidepressants in older people).