Pharmaceuticals have been used to treat illnesses for thousands of years. The early days of medication included plants and herbal remedies to treat a variety of diseases and traumas. Today, the long and complex journey to demonstrate the safety and efficacy of a compound and bring it from the laboratory into the hands of patients in need, is a multi-billion-dollar global industry.
Pharmaceutical companies continually strive towards innovative new treatments that help people live longer and healthier lives. These therapies are developed, manufactured, marketed and distributed around the world by pharmaceutical companies every day. Here, we look at some of the key contributions of the industry, and the reasons why pharmaceutical companies are so important to patients, society and the life sciences industry:
1. Treatments increase life expectancy
The pharmaceutical industry has greatly contributed to the increase in life expectancy for men and women across the world. It has been reported that pharmaceutical advancements accounted for 73% of the total increase in life expectancy between 2000 and 2009, across 30 developing and high-income countries. In 1900, global life expectancy was just 32 years; thanks to advancements in medicines, this has more than doubled and today the average life expectancy stands at 72 years.
Japan and Hong Kong have the highest average life expectancy, with people living to 85 years old on average. Pharmaceutical innovation has not just benefited richer nations, developing countries have also been positively impacted and global inequality in life expectancy is starting to decrease.
2. The industry strives to eradicate and eliminate diseases
Disease eradication is the ultimate goal when developing treatments, as this benefits ecosystems on a global level. To date, the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared smallpox as the first – and so far only – human disease to be eradicated globally.
There are 7 diseases that are almost eradicated, including: measles, rubella, polio, guinea worm and lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis). Eradication is extremely hard to achieve as it requires a vaccination and a true global effort.
3. Reduced pain and suffering
Although many pharmaceuticals do directly cure conditions, they can also be used to manage pain, symptoms or side-effects of other treatments, helping to relieve discomfort. A study by the WHO showed that individuals who live with persistent pain are four times more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety and twice as more likely to have difficulty working than those who do not suffer with pain. By providing treatments to manage pain, symptoms and side-effects, pharmaceutical companies can improve patients’ quality of life, allowing them the freedom to live healthier and more fulfilled lives.
4. Vaccines save money
By preventing disease, vaccines not only help to save millions of lives, they save money too. Vaccines are widely accepted as a cost-effective public health intervention, reducing healthcare spending and prevent productivity loss, curbing the wider impact on the economy. According to the WHO for every $1 the US spends on childhood vaccinations, over $10 in disease treatment costs is saved.
5. Hospital stays are shorter
In the US, 50 years ago, the average hospital stay was 8 days. With innovation and greater access to medicine, patients have the potential to recover more quickly. Many conditions that would have previously required invasive treatments and operations can now be treated with medicines. Today, the average hospital stay in the US stands at just 4-5 days. With patients being able to be discharged quicker, this has reduced pressure on the healthcare system and healthcare workers.
6. The industry employees millions of people
Pharmaceutical companies are responsible for millions of jobs across the world. In the US, the biopharmaceutical industry employs over 800,000 professionals who work across a wide range of areas including scientific research, technical support and manufacturing.
It is estimated that in the US, the industry directly and indirectly supports around 4.7 million jobs. Pharmaceutical companies require highly skilled and educated professionals, with roles for administrative level up to and including Ph.D. scientists.
7. Pharmaceutical companies boost the global economy
As well as driving medical progress by researching, developing and bringing new medicines that improve health and quality of life for patients around the world, the pharmaceutical industry is a key asset to the global economy. The industry reached unprecedented heights in 2019, worth an estimated $1.3 trillion.
The industry’s research and development (R&D) enterprise drives sizable economic impacts. In the US, biopharmaceutical manufacturers spend more in R&D relative to sales than any other manufacturing industry, investing more than six times the average for all manufacturing industries.