Fact of the Week: Drugs Launched After 1981 Have Saved 149 million Years of Life

February 25, 2019

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Drugs launched after 1981 are estimated to have saved 149 million years of life in 2013.

Source: Frank R. Lichtenberg, “How Many Life-Years Have New Drugs Saved? A 3-Way Fixed-Effects Analysis of 66 Diseases in 27 Countries, 2000-2013,” NBER Working Paper 25483, January 2019. 

Commentary: Global life expectancy has increased dramatically, from 67 to 72 years between 2000 and 2016. This increase has largely been driven by pharmaceutical innovations.

A new study has sought to quantify this impact, tracking the availability of drugs released after 1981 that are designed to treat 66 diseases across 27 countries. It finds that the average new drug reduces the number of years lost due to death before the age of 85 by 3.0 percent. By 12 years after a drug’s release, this effect grows to 5.5 percent, driven by increased availability and affordability over time. Collectively, these new drugs provided 148.7 million years of life before age 85 in 2013, including 44.9 million years before age 55. This estimate implies that if no new drugs had been produced after 1981, 2.16 times more years of life before 85 would have been lost in 2013.