Medical Progress

Medical Progress from Pharmaceutical Advances

New medicines save and improve lives every day. This is the foundation and underlying mission of America’s biopharmaceutical research sector.

In recent years, biopharmaceutical innovation has led to accelerated progress in the fight against many diseases. In 2012, the Food and Drug Administration approved 44 new medicines—the largest number in 15 years. Of those, 27 were approved by the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research and seven by the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research.

Medicines improve patients’ lives in many different ways. Appropriate use of medications can have a huge impact on the health and well-being of patients and their caregivers by extending life, halting or slowing disease progression, minimizing complications, improving quality of life, preventing hospitalizations and surgeries, preventing disease, and reducing side effects.

PhRMA member companies’ commitment to innovation is a driving force behind such medical progress. Read about innovation over the years.

Here are some highlights:

Increased Life Expectancy

From 1950 to 2009, life expectancy for men and women in the United States has increased by a full decade. The average life span in 1950 was 68.2 years, but grew to reach 78.7 years in 2011. Life expectancy is continuing to rise steadily.

Decreased Disability

Disability among seniors has dropped sharply. A 2008 study by Harvard University researchers found that between 1984 and 2004-05, disability in the elderly population fell by one-fifth. In elderly patients who have a cardiovascular event, researchers report that medicines and other treatments have decreased disability by 50 percent.


Since the approval of anti‐retroviral treatments (ART) in 1995, the AIDS death rate has dropped nearly 85 percent. Since ART became available, the number of people with HIV increased by 28 percent between 1996 and 2000, primarily because of rising survival rates. Hospital rates, however, fell by 32 percent over the same period. Learn more about incremental innovation in HIV/AIDS.

Today, a 20 year old diagnosed with HIV can expect to live an additional 50 years. Yet, biopharmaceutical companies continue to push for further treatment gains. According to a 2014 report, there are 44 medicines in development in the U.S. for the treatment of HIV/AIDS. Learn more about medications in development for HIV/AIDS.

Heart Disease and Stroke

Advances in medicine helped cut deaths from heart disease by 30 percent between 2001 and 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC said the factors contributing to the ongoing decline are better control of risks factors, early detection, and better treatment and care, including new drugs and expanded use of existing drugs.

CDC also reported in 2007 that U.S. adults reached an average cholesterol level in the ideal range (below 200) for the first time in 50 years. Authors of the report attribute the drop to the increased use of cholesterol-lowering medicines in the over-60 population.

Learn more about medications in development for heart disease and stroke.


Since 1980, life expectancy for cancer patients has increased by about three years, and 83 percent of those gains are attributable to new treatments. The number of cancer survivors living in the U.S. increased from 3 million in 1971 to 14 million today, according to the American Cancer Society.

The chance of survival for children with cancer has greatly improved in recent years. The five-year relative survival rate increased from 58 percent in the mid-1970s to 83 percent more recently (2002–2008)—a 43 percent jump. Learn more about incremental innovation in cancer. Continued efforts to battle the many forms of cancer are reflected in the nearly 1,000 new cancer medicines in development. Learn more about medications in development for cancer.


Over the last several years, many innovative medications for the treatment of diabetes have emerged, giving patients important tools for managing their disease. A recent study found that emergency-room visits for patients who took their diabetes medications as directed were 46 percent lower than for patients who took their medications less than 50 percent of the time. Similarly, adherent patients had 23 percent fewer hospitalizations and spent 24 percent fewer days in the hospital when they did need inpatient care.

Learn more about medications currently in development for diabetes.

Rare Disorders

Since the passage of the Orphan Drug Act in 1983, more than 400 medicines have been approved to treat rare diseases. These include the first treatments for Crohn’s disease and Lou Gehrig’s disease (also called ALS) and five treatments for pulmonary hypertension.

The FDA notes that approximately one-third all new medicines approved in the last five years have been designated as “orphan drugs”— the term used for medicines that treat rare diseases affecting fewer than 200,000 patients in the United States.

Learn more about medications currently in development for rare diseases.

Evolving Value of Medicine

Advances against disease like those illustrated above are not typically driven by large, dramatic developments, but more commonly result from a series of incremental gains in knowledge over time. New medicines build on one another step-by-step. In addition, the best clinical role and full value of a therapy typically emerges years after initial FDA approval as further research is conducted and physicians gain real-world experience.

This incremental step-wise transformation in knowledge has led to increased survival, improved patient outcomes, and enhanced quality of life for many patients. In fact, in recent years we have seen the transformation of several diseases that were once thought of as acute and sometimes fatal to chronic, manageable conditions for patients who have access to medication.

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