Fifty Million Life-Years Saved

Medical innovation gives back to society with time and productivity.

When it comes to drug development, there’s plenty of backlash in the media about its prohibitive costs. Last August Forbes reported that large pharmaceutical companies spend about $5 billion per medicine and that 95 percent of experimental medicines that are studied in humans end up failing. But the dialogue around the cost of creating new therapies doesn’t take into account the fact that since 1990, medical innovation has saved more than 50 million life-years in the United States, dramatically reduced the burden on healthcare and helped to expand our economy.

Novel therapies have controlled and eradicated multiple diseases that were once life threatening. By taking risks and looking into creative ways to address disease challenges, researchers advanced human health forever with the delivery of next-generation life-saving therapies. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) mentioned the death of a 90-year-old woman in a July 1999 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports. What made this announcement so important was the fact that the woman had been deathly ill in 1942 at the age of 33. She was treated with an experimental drug that cured her, enabling her to get on with her life, marry, raise a family and live almost six more decades. This patient was the first American to be saved by the now commonly prescribed antibiotic penicillin, which has saved thousands of lives.

This additional time added to life is priceless for patients and their families. Physician Siddhartha Mukherjee, MD, proclaimed the benefits of medical innovation in his writing. “In 2005, a man diagnosed with multiple myeloma asked me if he would be alive to watch his daughter graduate from high school in a few months. In 2009, bound to a wheelchair, he watched his daughter graduate from college,” Mukherjee wrote in his 2011 Pulitzer Prize winning nonfiction book The Emperor of All Maladies. “The wheelchair had nothing to do with his cancer. The man had fallen down while coaching his youngest son’s baseball team.”

Advancements in cancer research have had a dramatic effect on cancer patients. In 1990 there were 6 million cancer survivors in the United States and now there are approximately 14 million. Today almost 70 percent of cancer patients are living five years or longer. In other disease areas, the benefits have been even more dramatic. The development of four human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) therapies led to a 90 percent reduction in HIV related deaths.

Medical innovation not only changes the lives of patients and their loved ones, it’s also good for healthcare and the economy. Continued cancer innovation will contribute to worldwide prosperity. Over the past half century, more than half of all economic growth can be sourced to medical innovation. The annual cost associated with the disease is $895 billion, and reducing this burden will help drive economic growth. Decreasing lost life-years by 40% could save up to $360 billion annually.  And for every 15% reduction in cancer deaths, the economy gains more than $127 billion in productivity. Additionally, since 1990, new cancer therapies have reduced hospitalization costs by $124 billion and patient out-of-pocket cost by $240 billion. Incredibly, while only one percent of healthcare dollars are devoted to new cancer therapies, $4.7 trillion in new economic activity is created by such a small investment.

But in order for the world to receive the benefits of medical innovation, patients need unencumbered access to receive their life-enhancing therapies. Today, the sluggish approval process not only delays this potential prosperity, but also blocks patients from enjoying more years. While HIV treatment only required two years from discovery to get Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval during the height of the AIDS epidemic, cancer treatments take an average of 8.8 years to get approved. Delaying approvals hinders healthcare, economic growth and blocks patients from living the longer, healthier lives they deserve.