The Dilemma of New Drugs: Are Costs Rising Faster than Effectiveness?
This century has seen a phenomenal growth in the development, understanding and use of pharmaceuticals. Additionally, this period has seen the balance of the treatment needs of patients shift dramatically from infectious to cardiovascular and cancer diseases, and from infancy and middle-age to old age. The value of modern pharmaceuticals to society is undoubted. However, the benefits in terms of health gain, when adequately evaluated, are often more modest than first supposed, and are often achieved at considerable costs and sometimes considerable risks to patients. Data are seldom adequate to attempt a robust evaluation of the cost effectiveness of drugs and compare how cost effectiveness may have changed over time. Rapid increases in development costs coupled with the increasing focus on chronic and old-age diseases make it probable that the cost effectiveness of new drugs is broadly declining, but such a conclusion should be interpreted with caution. The big challenge for the next century with its likely genetic and biotechnological discoveries, bringing as yet unforeseen benefits, risks and costs, is to radically improve the manner in which new drugs are evaluated and diffuse into health systems.
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