Contribution of Traditional Drug Development to Longevity

To what degree does the slow, expensive, and over-regulated institution of drug development - Big Pharma - contribute to the gentle upward trend in human life expectancy that has held over the past few decades? "This paper investigates the contribution of pharmaceutical innovation to recent longevity growth in Germany and France. The effect of the vintage of prescription drugs (and other variables) on the life expectancy and age-adjusted mortality rates of residents of Germany is examined, using longitudinal, annual, state-level data during the period 2001-7. The estimates imply that about one-third of the 1.4-year increase in German life expectancy during the period 2001-7 was due to the replacement of older drugs by newer drugs. The effect of the vintage of chemotherapy treatments on age-adjusted cancer mortality rates of residents of France is also investigated, using longitudinal, annual, cancer-site-level data during the period 2002-6. The estimates imply that chemotherapy innovation accounted for at least one-sixth of the decline in French cancer mortality rates, and may have accounted for as much as half of the decline."



I have to admit these estimates are higher than I would have predicted. Although I definitely think the current incremental drug development model is not going to get us major returns in quantity and quality of life like regenerative and rejuvenitve medicine will, it's still useful have this data. There are so many people today who argue we use too many drugs, too many medical devices, and receive too much advanced treatment - and that somehow all the money, all the proportion of GDP spent on such treatment to extend human life is thrown into a black hole never to be seen again. Yet, these are often the same people who argue that the answer to our economic doldrums is for people to spend more on consumer items. The implication is that's immoral to help extend the life of your grandmother by another six months or a year, when you could be buying a new 64 inch 3D plasma television instead.

Posted by: Ranjit Suresh at January 31st, 2012 9:42 AM

An interesting question would be if our current health system is efficient at all. Pharma Companies have no incentives to cure diseases and government prevents little start up companies to enter the market. What we see over and over again is the picture where a drug receives small improvement, the company files a new patent and the patient is forced to pay a higher price for nearly the same drug. As long as the major aim in pharma business is to keep a patient hooked on medication for the rest of his life, there will be no major breakthrough regarding efficiency or disease treatment.

Posted by: Singaporean at February 1st, 2012 3:52 AM

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