The Value of Saving Lives

Published on: 
BioPharm International, BioPharm International-05-01-2016, Volume 29, Issue 5
Pages: 12

Policies for patient access to life-saving therapies must keep pace with biomedical innovation.

Our nation is in the midst of an important debate regarding medical innovation and how we should be paying for these advances. The irony is that much of this discussion is being sparked by breakthrough cures and therapies that have been developed for diseases that affect large patient populations-exactly the kind of medicine that society needs.

While these are exciting and important developments, particularly for the patients whose lives will be transformed by these therapies, the reality is that access to our healthcare system is failing to keep pace with the work occurring in labs across the country.

In recent years, we have seen incredible advances in medical innovation and science, such as:

  • Hepatitis C. In the past few years, new treatments for Hepatitis C came onto the market with clinically demonstrated cure rates above 90%, up from a mere 6% in the 1990s (1,2). These incredible innovations have the potential to help millions of people lead healthier and more productive lives, and to save potentially billions of dollars in healthcare costs related to liver transplants and other costly and difficult medical procedures.

  • Cancer. Since the early 1990s, the death rate for cancer has fallen by over 20%, and cancer patients have enjoyed 50 million additional years of life collectively, thanks in large part to new medicines (3-5).

  • HIV/AIDS. A near-certain death sentence not long ago, HIV/AIDS is now a manageable chronic condition for many patients thanks to the development of highly active antiretroviral therapies.

In 2015, FDA approved 48 new drugs, including many new cancer treatments as well as treatments for cystic fibrosis, heart failure, high cholesterol, and many other conditions. For the second year in a row, FDA approved more drugs to treat rare diseases than ever before.

New drugs are the result of decades of hard work in labs and billions of dollars in investments. These vast sums must be raised from investors-ranging from retirement funds to individual purchasers of stocks-who are willing to take significant risks. They will only do so if there is an expectation of reasonable returns. Only one in 10,000 potential medicines researched goes on to become an approved treatment.

Yet the ecosystem that makes the United States the leader in medical innovation is under attack. We are seeing more calls for innovation-crushing price controls and increased government intervention. Some critics have even suggested that insurance companies and federal and state programs restrict which medicines patients may access, with cancer treatments frequently coming under attack. This approach is extremely short-sighted and would be devastating for patients, who rightly expect their physician to recommend, and their insurance provider to cover, the medicine that is best for their particular situation.

We need to look at the outdated, cumbersome, and inefficient framework for accessing life-saving and enhancing treatments and cures. Insurance companies and policymakers must keep pace with biomedical innovation by ensuring access to the latest medical breakthroughs for patients today and encouraging sustained medical innovation for those who will need it tomorrow. Patients deserve no less.

1. E. Lawitz, et al., The Lancet, 383 (9916) 515-523 (Nov. 5, 2013).
2. R.T. Marinho and D.P. Barreira, World J Gastroenterol 19 (40) 6703-6709 (Oct. 28, 2013).
3. E.C. Sun et al., “An Economic Evaluation of the War on Cancer,” National Bureau of Economic Research (November 2009).
4. F.R. Lichtenberg, “Has Medical Innovation Reduced Cancer Mortality?” National Bureau of Economic Research (Revised October 2013).
5. T. Philipson, et al., Health Affairs 31 (4) 1-9 (April 2012).

About the Author
James C. Greenwood is president and CEO of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO).





Article DetailsPharmaceutical Technology
Vol. 40, No. 5
Pages: 12

Citation: When referring to this article, please cite as J. Greenwood, "The Value of Saving Lives," Pharmaceutical Technology 40 (5) 2016.