A few generations have made a world of difference. On average, a child born in the United States in 1900 would live to age 47. By 1965, life expectancy in the United States had increased to about 70 years. Infants born in the United States today can expect to live to age 80. So what's the relationship between longer life and better medicine?
What factors have contributed to people living longer? Better food and cleaner water have helped some. But the most important gains were in fighting diseases that were unrelated to water quality and malnutrition. Over the past century, life expectancy has been increasing primarily because of the development of effective medicines. These medicines have been battling in a series of wars against disease... and winning.
In the early part of the 20th century, the first 'battle' was won against infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, pneumonia, and typhoid fever. Deaths from these illnesses dropped rapidly, especially among children, and life expectancy increased as a result.
The effect of medical innovation is undeniable. By the 1960, deaths from infectious disease were no longer common. These illnesses were replaced by diabetes, heart disease, stroke, mental illness, and cancer as the greatest medical threats to life and well-being. Between 1950 and 1980, new medicines for all these diseases were introduced. Death rates declined and life expectancy grew.
Learn how pressure from HIV patients led to 4 new drugs that reduced HIV deaths by a staggering 90% in just 3 years.
True medical progress is about utilizing disease-based knowledge to develop innovative medicine in a more timely fashion.
The role of bacteria in causing many human diseases was established in the 1880s, yet the first effective treatments were not developed until the 1930s. Likewise, it took a half-century to identify the most important causes of heart disease and diabetes.
Over the past few decades, we have learned a lot about the mechanisms of disease at the cellular level. By the 1970s, we had learned that cancer was rooted in the unregulated growth of the body's own cells. In the 1980s, we learned that AIDS results when the HIV virus destroys a particular kind of cell within the immune system?
Compared to the successful assault on HIV, the attack on cancer seemed very slow. Chemotherapy was effective at fighting some cancers, but it also was very toxic. During the 1980s, few new cancer medicines were introduced. The time had come to follow the path of HIV innovation and accelerate the development of new cancer treatments.
The number of cancer therapies has grown exponentially in recent years, thanks to cellular research breakthroughs in the 1990s.
In the 1990s, researchers discovered how defects in the network of signaling pathways within the cell could cause a healthy cell to become malignant. These discoveries led to an explosion of research and investment focused on particular targets within those pathways. The result was 160 new potential medications targeted at specific networks and pathways in cancer cells.
Between 1990 and 2011, death rates from all cancers fell from 216 per 100,000 Americans to 168.7—a 22% decrease. At the same time, the number of people surviving cancer and living longer more than doubled, from 6.5 million to 13.8 million.
What would you call longer life achieved through medical innovation? According to Nobel Prize-winning economist Gary Becker, PhD, it is "the last century's greatest gift."
Nearly everyone places a high value on living longer. While it's hard to put a price tag on life, economists have developed ways of calculating how increased life expectancy affects national income, as measured by gross domestic product (GDP). Indeed, as the chart below shows, the increase in our life expectancy has increased GDP. In fact, over the past half-century, the added value of longer life has been tremendous.
Living longer has a payoff in today's global economy, too. Mortality rates have fallen faster in poorer countries, thus helping to reduce the income inequality gap. These changes have been more dramatic than projections suggested. In fact, the added income is equal to at least half of the total growth in income between 1960 and 2010.
As life expectancy increases, so does economic growth, making investments in cancer innovation a good bet for economic outlook.
As we've seen, the general population is living longer thanks to medical innovation. This leads to greater prosperity and better quality of life.
The good news is that those with cancer are living longer, too. If we multiply the average increase in life expectancy by the number of cancer survivors since 1990 (a figure that has doubled in that time frame), we learn that 43 million life-years have been saved from cancer!
To begin with, the cost of lost productivity from cancer death is about $124 billion each year. Conversely, increasing life-years saved and cancer survivorship has an opposite, stimulating impact on our economy. Over $127 billion in additional productivity is attributed to the 15% decline in cancer deaths between 2000-2011.
Many of the DNA-focused companies that were created by investments in research and development are working on ways to improve and accelerate the availability of new, targeted cancer therapies. They are working to crack the genetic code, thus enabling discovery of pathways to therapy and development of treatments that target cancer. Investment in medical innovation such as mapping the human genome contributed toward the $796 billion in new economic activity generated between 1988 and 2010.
In 2010 alone, the field of genomics — mostly used to improve detection, treatment, and targeting of cancer mutations — directly supported more than 51,000 jobs (and indirectly more than 310,000), thus creating $20 billion in personal income and adding $67 billion to the U.S. economy.
Thanks to medical innovation, people with cancer are living longer. Just as the increase in life-expectancy from other illnesses increased economic growth, the life-years saved from cancer adds income too. In fact, between 1990 and 2013, the 43 million life-years saved from cancer has generated about $4.7 trillion in added income.
Investment in medical innovation powers a virtuous cycle, where success breeds further success. Medical innovation has led to discoveries of how to prevent and cure many illnesses. As a result, millions of people have lived longer, healthier, and more productive lives. As a result, society can afford to invest in further medical innovations.
Cancer remains a major cause of death and disability. Increasing the number of life-years saved from cancer will be one of the most significant sources of growth and longevity for years to come. The question is,
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