Medical Innovation: Saving Lives, Creating Jobs

Medical innovation is a key source of longer life and economic prosperity.

It’s hard to forget “Angels in America” and the tragic hopelessness of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) community, when there was no cure in sight, in the mid-1980s. This was before anti-retroviral therapies radicalized the standard of care, providing positive health outcomes in the HIV arena. Not only were lives saved, but people were living longer and healthier. Medical innovation was at the core of this giant leap forward.

When it comes to medical innovation, the biopharmaceutical sector blazes a path within the global healthcare industry. The United States is responsible for more than half of all new innovative therapies and biotech patents. We are living in an era of accelerated medical innovation that has far-reaching consequences beyond discovery. Biopharmaceutical innovation is not only altering the future of medical breakthroughs and standard of care, but having a surprising effect on expanding the economy. One reason is the longer survivorship among patients and, for many, a subsequent return to a full, productive working life. In the last decade, new therapies as a direct result of a virtuous cycle of medical innovation accounted for 73 percent of the increase in life expectancy, compared with only 43 percent in the previous decade.

HIV and cancer were once a certain death sentence. But now people with cancer and HIV live longer, productive lives. These diseases, much like diabetes, have become chronic, manageable conditions. Since the mid-1990s, the death rate from HIV infections has dropped in countries with access to antiretroviral therapy. Cancer is heading in a similar direction. Due to new and novel therapies, cancer death rates have been on the decline over the past 30 years. By 2008, the five-year survival rate was at an all-time high of 67 percent. With the treatment landscape irrevocably changed by new innovation, people are living longer, productive, working lives, which has had a direct impact on our communities and economy. Since 1990, cancer medicines have helped generate 50 million life-years saved and $4.8 trillion in added income from cancer patients’ longer lives.

Myeloma is a particularly interesting case in point. It is the second most common blood cancer after non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, with 66,000 Americans diagnosed in 2009. More than 35 percent of these patients are diagnosed between the ages of 45 and 65. These are people in the prime of their lives and their most economically fruitful years. Survivorship has radically increased over the last decade by 73 percent, meaning patients are living longer, consuming goods and services, and contributing to their communities through work, hobbies and activities.

“With the novel therapies we’re seeing a quantum leap in two-year survival from 50 percent to now 93 percent, which is just three percent short of what a healthy person of a comparable age could expect,” said Dr. Brian Durie, International Myeloma Foundation Chair, professor of medicine, hematologist/oncologist, Cedars-Sinai Outpatient Cancer Center, Los Angeles. And advances in therapies that allow patients to take a pill at home rather than travel to the hospital for invasive surgery or intravenous therapies are helping to keep employees at their jobs as much as possible.

In addition to the economic impact that longer survivorship has had on the economy, the biopharmaceutical industry has generated an influx of new jobs.

With medical innovation rapidly expanding the biopharmaceutical sector, there are now more than 810,000 jobs in the U.S. pharmaceutical industry. Not only is the industry itself prospering, but ancillary supporting industries are thriving. Each biotech job generates five additional jobs in other industries, accounting for a total of 3.4 million jobs supported by the biotech sector.

An interesting case to spotlight is the Human Genome Project. In some ways, this international effort is the grandfather of medical innovation. The decade-long project, completed in 2003, sequenced the entire human genetic code for the first time. It was a breathtaking scientific milestone, giving researchers and scientists priceless tools to draw upon and advance the course of human health. Not only has it irrevocably changed the face of research, but it has had a profound economic impact. In America alone, U.S. investment in the human genome project led to a $796 billion return on investment and the creation of 310,000 jobs. The Human Genome Project is a tremendous example of the symbiotic benefit achieved between medical innovation and the economy.

As medical innovation continues to have a far-reaching impact on our economy, we can expect to see further investment by the financial community to support and spawn new ideas. Though relatively new to the health care industry, biopharmaceutical companies, with their interest and emphasis on innovation, are taking center stage in expanding our economy, communities and lives. Given all that’s been achieved in a relatively short time—a couple of decades—since the discovery of antiretrovirals and novel cancer therapies, as long as we continue to fuel the virtuous cycle of medical innovation with pro-innovation and pro-patient policies, the future looks bright.