Future of Health Care
As a society, we're living longer and better than at any time in history. In part, this is due to pharmaceutical advances. Death rates are down, long-term disability is down, life expectancy is higher than ever, and we're making progress against the most serious diseases we face. As we consider the direction health care will take in the future, one thing is certain: new, innovative medicines will assume an increasingly prominent role in the way we improve the quality of care for future generations.
One critical role of new medicines will be the prevention, treatment, and management of many diseases suffered by an the aging Baby Boomer generation. In the year 2000, there were roughly 35.6 million Americans age 65 and older. By 2030, this number is projected to double to an estimated 71.5 million. Diseases like diabetes and Alzheimer's represent a growing threat, not only to patients but to our ability to keep health care affordable. We know that we have to do better in our lifestyles and in our health care system to avoid an enormous disease burden and economic burden on the Boomers themselves, their families, employers, and federal and state governments. New pharmaceuticals are a vital part of the solution to this rapidly emerging issue.
Increasingly, the administration of new medicines will be guided by predictive evidence from genetic and other molecular tests. The expectation of “personalized medicine” is that these tests will reveal whether an individual is likely to respond well to a drug, or avoid toxic side effects. A targeted approach to treatment can ensure that each patient receives the right medicine at the right time. About a dozen of such treatments are in use today, and the field is growing rapidly. Since molecular diagnostic tests can reveal a patient’s susceptibility to disease, they can also guide preventive treatment before symptoms arise. The emergence of personalized medicine will shift the focus of medical care from “disease treatment” to “health care management.”
A 2010 Alzheimer's Association report illustrates how medicines offer an important solution to this critical challenge, as well as the importance of finding new health solutions. Examining trends and projections in Alzheimer’s disease between 2010 and 2050 revealed that without new disease-modifying treatments, 13.5 million Americans will develop Alzheimer’s by 2050. By that year, the total costs of the disease will rise to more than $1 trillion; Medicare costs to cover care for people with Alzheimer’s disease will increase by more than 600%, to $627 billion; and Medicaid costs for care will escalate by 400%, to $178 billion. According to the report, treatments that could delay the onset of Alzheimer’s by five years could save $447 billion per year in costs to Medicare, Medicaid, private payers, and patients in 2050. Such a treatment would not only save billions but would dramatically improve the health and wellbeing of people with the disease and their families and caregivers.
Of course, Alzheimer's isn't the only disease sorely in need of new treatments. We need new treatments for a broad range of conditions, or we will be left with a growing toll on health, quality of life, patients' families, and the economy. The status quo isn't good enough for patients and it's not the best way to spend valuable resources. The 1,000-plus new medicines in development represent potential advances that can shift the status quo for patients and our health care system.