International Health Care Systems Pharmaceuticals

Effect of pharmaceutical innovation on longevity

Using data from 2006-2018 across 26 high-income countries, Lichtenberg et al. (2022) measures the relationship between pharmaceutical innovation and longevity. Innovation is measured by “mean vintage…of the drugs used to treat each disease in each country” where vintage is defined as the year of worldwide launch. For the U.S., the authors found that:

…the diseases for which there were larger increases in drug vintage tended to have larger increases in the longevity of Americans of all races and both sexes. In other words, the lower the mean age of the drugs, the higher the mean age at death…We estimate that the 2006–2018 increase in drug vintage increased the mean age at death of Americans by about 6 months (66% of the observed increase).

Interestingly, the effect is mostly concentrated among more educated individuals. Lichtenberg claims that this likely is because higher income individuals are more likely to use newer drugs. The study also examined data from 26 high-income countries and finds that:

The increase in drug vintage is estimated to have increased mean age at death in the 26 countries by 1.23 years between 2006 and 2016—73% of the observed increase.

Not only that, but the longevity gains were achieved in a highly cost-effective manner.

Estimates of the cost per life-year gained for the U.S. and the 26 countries are $35,817 and $13,904, respectively. Both figures are well below per capita GDP in the respective regions, suggesting that, overall, pharmaceutical innovation was highly cost-effective.

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