Targeted Therapy Tackles Toughest Tumors

Estimated Value of Additional Life-Years

As American economist Theodore Levitt once observed, "Just as energy is the basis of life itself, and ideas the source of innovation, so is innovation the vital spark of all human change, improvement and progress."

In the past 100 years, medical innovation has increased life expectancy by a remarkable 37 years. Today, society is reaping the rewards of investments in biomedical research made over the past 50 years, which are leading to longer life, better health, more productivity, and lower healthcare costs. During that period, medical innovation has led to the eradication of polio. It has transformed HIV infection from a death sentence to a manageable chronic disease. It has reduced the death rate from heart disease. It has also made important progress against cancer.

Targeted Therapy Tackles Toughest Tumors

Among the technological advances of the 20th century, medical innovation contributed more to our ability to live longer, healthier, and more prosperous lives than anything else. During the 20th century, infant mortality in the United States decreased by 96% and life expectancy increased by 62%. These changes were due largely to medical innovations. Half of the economic growth that has occurred in the United States during the past 50 years can be attributed to medical innovation that have saved lives and reduced disability.

During the 20th century, medical innovations led to unprecedented improvements in longevity, economic prosperity, and general well-being. In the 21st century, it will continue to dramatically improve health outcomes, reduce the overall cost of healthcare and stimulate growth of the global economy in ways never seen before.

Through medical innovation, the research community has made remarkable progress in helping cancer patients live longer, healthier lives. The cancer death rate has continued a decline that began in the 1990s. The 5-year survival rate for patients with multiple myeloma has nearly doubled since 1992. A decade ago, life expectancy for people with chronic myeloid leukemia was only 3 to 7 years. Today, most individuals living with CML can expect a normal lifespan. Over the past 2 decades, the incidence of lung cancer has steadily declined in men and is now starting to decline in women. There are even some promising new strategies for treating pancreatic cancer.

This vision of the future, in which cancer is eradicated or controlled, is now within society's grasp. To make it happen, resources are required to develop more targeted cancer research for improved and more personalized prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.

Without a doubt, this remains the most exciting time in the history of medicine. Science continues on the verge of breakthroughs to combat cancer, neurological disorders, and many other diseases. The potential of science has never been greater; and yet research and development investment, even in cancer, is declining.

Conquering cancer and other diseases requires the ongoing dedication, passionate commitment, and coordinated efforts of researchers, clinicians, entrepreneurs, and governments around the world. It requires a policy environment that fosters, values, and supports the entire “ecosystem of innovation”—including academic medical centers, voluntary health organizations, government agencies and biopharmaceutical industry scientists, entrepreneurs and investors.

A policy environment in which the value of innovation is understood cannot be taken for granted. It is, in fact, very much at risk. When patients have access to innovative new treatments, health outcomes improve and overall health system costs can be reduced, which positively affects the economy.

Medical science is accelerating rapidly, fueled by technologies—including genomics and proteomics, cell-based therapies, systems biology, nanotechnology and informatics—that provide previously unimagined insights into molecular biology. This remarkable innovation has the potential to transform cancer from a leading cause of death to a curable or at least manageable disease.

We all envision a world in which serious diseases are prevented and once-deadly diseases are either cured or treated as chronic, manageable conditions. Yet we are approaching a "medical innovation cliff," a critical crossroads where both the number of investments in medical innovation and the dollar value of those investments are declining. To take full advantage of the exciting opportunities that scientific breakthroughs are making possible, society needs a positive policy environment that supports continued investment in medical innovation.

Within 30 years, medical innovation decreased the number of HIV-related deaths in the United States by 90%. Imagine being able to achieve the same progress against cancer by the year 2050! But first, we need to develop effective, collaborative solutions that provide resources and maintain a robust ecosystem of innovation. By working together, we can change the course of human health and deliver a world free from cancer.

By Robert M. Goldberg, PhD

May 31, 2013

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