Premature deaths from diseases like lung cancer, diabetes, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma have declined over the last quarter century.
The reason? Advances in medicine. Unfortunately, policymakers in Washington seem keen on undermining the incentives needed to develop breakthrough medicines.
Perhaps the most remarkable gains can be found among cancer patients. Age-adjusted death rates from lung cancer dropped 24 percent between 1990 and 2016. For colon cancer, the decrease is nearly 30 percent. And for breast cancer, more than 32 percent.
Early detection has played a major role, but advances in treatment are mostly to thank. They account for 73 percent of the recent rise in cancer survival rates. Since 2006, the Food and Drug Administration has approved more than 110 new oncology drugs.
Or look at ischemic heart disease. The condition is still the leading cause of premature death among Americans. But the number of “years of life lost” from this condition declined by more than 50 percent between 1990 and 2016.
A class of drugs known as statins reduced the risk of death from coronary heart disease in men by 28 percent over two decades.
Many statins are now available generically, and will provide cardiovascular disease treatment for generations to come.
Despite these hopeful trends, the challenges posed by chronic illness remain daunting. Ischemic heart disease, lung cancer, and colon cancer are still among the top five causes of early death in the United States.
Overcoming these health crises will require a new generation of innovative treatments.
There are more than 200 new medicines for heart disease and stroke currently under development. The pipeline for cancer treatments includes more than 800 potential drugs.
Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that the next medical breakthrough is just around the corner. That’s why policies that deter research are so dangerous.
Some have started calling for the government to regulate prices. But without the ability to set their own prices, researchers might decide that the financial risks involved in developing new medicines are too high.
It takes $2.6 billion and around 10 years to create just one commercially available drug. What makes this massive upfront cost acceptable to drug firms and investors is the expectation that, should a medicine become successful, they can recoup some of this investment.
If the government is put in charge of pricing drugs, investing in pharmaceutical research would become even riskier. Investors would flee to safer industries. Funding for much-needed medical advances would dry up.
In other words, the next medical breakthrough could be obstructed by short-sighted political rationale. This would deprive millions of people access to life-saving therapies for decades to come.
America has made encouraging progress in battling the most serious public-health threats of the last few decades. It owes much of those gains to new treatments that were unimaginable just a few years ago. Now is no time to undermine the source of that innovation with misguided government policies.
The writer is the founder and president of Market Access Solutions, a global market access consultancy, where he develops strategies to optimize patient access to life-changing therapies.