Drug innovation improves lives and saves some

by rdan

Voxeu has a good essay on drug innovation statistics and how lives are helped, as well as the expenses involved.

In a new study, we examine the impact of pharmaceutical innovation on the longevity of Australians during the period 1995-2003 (Lichtenberg and Duflos 2008). In one important respect, the data available for Australia are much better than those used in the previous studies. Rather than merely knowing whether a given drug has been launched in Australia by a certain date, we know how frequently that drug is used in each year. Combining these data with data from other sources enables us to calculate the mean vintage1 of drugs utilised in Australia, by disease and year.

We used these data to test the hypothesis that, ceteris paribus, people using newer, or later vintage, drugs will be in better health and therefore live longer (die later). This hypothesis is predicated on the idea that pharmaceuticals, like other R&D intensive products, are characterised by embodied technological progress. The hypothesis is tested by determining whether there were above-average increases in mean age at death for diseases with above-average increases in mean vintage of drugs.

There is a section that lists uncertainties such as other medical advances (ie devices) that improve health outcomes.

Personal and professional experience have demonstrated that advances in psycho-tropic drugs have made side effects significantly less, as well as a better and more refined targeting of a meds impact on an individual’s symptoms. Breakthroughs are not necessary to make drugs much better for people. But then, refinements are not as expensive. It still begs the questions of if funding such is currently wasteful, and where the line is drawn on the inertia of this market.

It also begs the question of using drugs as a cureall, and not noticing when problems are created. Would you use statins on your eight year old, knowing there is no research on its side effects and use over time?

One the other hand, I have read that statin drugs (cholesterol lowering) have been okayed for use by pediatricians by the Journal of Pediatric Medicine (not the FDA) for eight year olds after other methods ‘fail’ over a six or 12 month period.