People pay Dh3,000 to live one year longer, study finds
Introducing new drugs does involve costs and investments.
There is the factor of whether these new drugs are immediately available to patients.
People are living longer lives these days - more than half a decade longer, in fact - research has shown. And according to a renowned expert, innovations and investments in the pharmaceutical industry had something to do with it.
Frank Lichtenberg, the Courtney C. Brown professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Business, visited Dubai recently and spoke to Khaleej Times about his highly acclaimed study.
"In general, global life expectancy has increased by five and a half years on average, between 2000 and 2016," said Lichtenberg, who is also associated with PhRMAG, a group of biopharma companies in the GCC region. He has been known for his work on policy and pricing across the pharma sector and has recently completed a study on The Cost of Saving Lives through Pharmaceuticals.
Looking into the factors that contribute to longer life expectancy, he compared the impact of new drug launches and its effects on mortality and longevity. He used patient-level data available for nine countries in the Middle East and Africa.
"When looking at premature mortality before the age of 75, I found that in the absence of drug launches in those eight years I was looking at, 2.8 million additional life years would have been lost in the nine countries studied.
"In essence, 2.8 million people got to live an extra year because of the new drugs launched within eight years," said Lichtenberg.
Introducing new drugs does involve costs and investments, so he also studied how much money had been spent to help people live longer.
"In my study, I calculated the ratio between drug launch investment with the number of years of life gained. I found that on average, the cost per life year gained was $834 (Dh3,063), meaning these drug launches were highly cost-effective," the professor said.
"It cost less than $1,000 to extend a person's life by one year - and this is a price many people are willing to pay. On top of this, we can factor in other benefits of drugs, such as improved quality of life, reduced disability, or reduced hospitalisation."
But then, are these new medicines making their way to the region?
"For the countries included in the study, data revealed only half as many drugs launches per year when compared with countries such as Germany. This was true for even the top two performing countries, South Africa and the UAE - so, although we have had many drug launches in the region, it is clear there is still significant work to be done," he said.
However, the study also showed that the UAE has enjoyed "earlier and greater benefits" of pharmaceutical innovation, compared with other countries in the region.
There is the factor of whether these new drugs are immediately available to patients, Lichtenberg said.
There may be a problem in the perception of new medicines. The benefits of these drugs may not yet be fully understood or explored.
"Benefits are often less detectable or harder to identify, whereas the cost of prescribing these new drugs can be quite high, " he said.
"In one of my previous studies, I found a 75 per cent increase in life expectancy across 30 countries worldwide, attributed to the use of newer drugs.
"In the recent study, I found that drugs being launched at a faster rate caused an increase in life longevity when controlling other factors - and 75 per cent was explained by the launch of new drugs alone," he explained.
Lichtenberg is looking forward to expanding the scope of his study.
"To take this research forward, I would need to extend the data to overall healthcare spending including hospitalisation, which is predicted to be much larger than biopharmaceutical spending and would require data on patient hospitalisation by disease over time," he said.
"These data are currently available in other countries such as the US but not in the UAE, which may be due to the need of more unification in the healthcare system."
Talking about the future of medicine, Lichtenberg said there has been a recent trend in biopharmaceutical investment within the cancer and oncology sector in recent years.
"This is unsurprising as cancer is the second leading cause of mortality worldwide.
"Our study saw the greatest increase in drugs targeting malignant neoplasms," he said.
Precision medicine on the rise in UAE
There has been an increase in personalised or precision medicine in the UAE, Frank Lichtenberg said.
This approach to healthcare takes individual patients' genetic makeup into account to decide on the most effective treatment strategy.
"The migration from blanket treatment approaches holds great promise as, today, patient-specific data is being generated on a scale that was not even imaginable a decade ago," the professor told Khaleej Times. "On the other hand, this means that the target population for specific drugs is going to be much smaller as it will be effective only in a certain population.
"This may decrease the production of new blockbuster drugs and limit drug sales, but precision medicine holds the promise of higher effectiveness in specific sub-populations," he said.