Chronic illnesses don’t kill Americans the way they did in the past.
Thanks to new drugs and treatments, the average American can expect to live more than a decade longer than they would have in 1950. This is despite the fact that nearly 92 percent of older Americans have a chronic illness like diabetes or heart disease, according to a new report published by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), called “Medicines in Development for Older Americans.”
But living long doesn’t always mean living well. Even when a chronic illness isn’t immediately deadly, it can still be debilitating. Take diabetes, which can lead to blindness, kidney failure and even amputations.
There may be new hope for older Americans living with chronic conditions. Biopharmaceutical companies are working to create more than 400 promising new medications to treat 15 pervasive, chronic conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and heart disease, according to the PhRMA report.
Think of it as “aging well.” New options can lead not only to longer lives, but also a better quality of life for millions of older adults.
An aging population
As the U.S. population ages, chronic diseases are becoming more and more of a problem, and treating them sucks up a substantial share of the national health care budget — 66 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The costs come from the sheer number of adults who are affected. Three quarters of older Americans have not only one, but two or more chronic diseases, according to the National Council on Aging.
Medical gains in recent decades have kept many of these diseases from being the insidious killers they were in the past. The overall death rate in the U.S. has plummeted 60 percent in the past 75 years, with huge progress in treatments for heart diseases, which have dropped by 55 percent in a span of 32 years.
Better treatments have also improved life for people with other illnesses, such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis, according to the PhRMA report.
The newest crop of medicines in development is poised to build on those gains. Several particularly promising options stand out among the medications that researchers are either testing in clinical trials or have already submitted for review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration:
- Heart failure. Researchers are working on a medicine that helps to relax blood vessels and drain fluid buildup, and may even help repair damage caused by heart failure. This recombinant treatment may provide new hope for this condition, which carries a worse prognosis than many advanced cancers.
- Diabetes. Scientists are progressing with a new diabetes treatment that may only need to be taken once a week instead of daily. This medicine helps boost insulin production and reduces glucagon to keep blood glucose levels in the optimal range.
- High cholesterol. Advances have helped create a protein-blocking drug that assists the body in clearing “bad” LDL cholesterol from the blood, hopefully reducing the risk of heart disease.
- Repairing cartilage. An innovative therapy is on the horizon that uses genetically modified cartilage cells to grow new cartilage to cushion joints and reduce painful symptoms related to conditions such as osteoarthritis.
In total there are 110 new therapies for diabetes, nearly 70 for Alzheimer’s, with others aimed at helping people with dementia, anemia, arthritis, cataracts and glaucoma, kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (also known as COPD), depression, hypertension and more, according to the PhRMA report.
“Treatment advances have led to significant progress against many chronic diseases,” says PhRMA President and CEO John J. Castellani. “The 435 medicines in the pipeline today offer incredible hope for aging patients and the sustainability of our health care system.”