Aging gracefully: drugs for age-related diseases are booming

More than 900 new medicines are in development to treat the diseases of aging, according to a report released late last year by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).

Jeffrey Bouley
WASHINGTON—More than 900 new medicines are in development to treat the diseases of aging, according to a report released late last year by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).
 
"As life expectancy increases, older Americans face challenges to their health, productivity and independence," says PhRMA's president and chief executive officer, Billy Tauzin. "Research-based pharmaceutical companies are actively searching for treatments and cures to help patients live healthier lives as they age."
 
PhRMA's numbers were fo-cused 0n drugs in development, meaning they are already in clinical trials or awaiting U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval. So it begs the question, what are the implications for drug discovery? Has the bubble reached the breaking point, or is there room for more expansion?
 
"This continues to be a big area of research, for discovery as well as for development-stage efforts," notes Jeff Trewhitt, a media spokesperson for PhRMA. "Drugs for aging have increased steadily and consistently for a number of years. That tracks the aging of the baby boomers and the aging of the United States in general."
 
As Trewhitt notes, not all the current drugs in development will be big hits, nor will any of them likely be the last word in treating any of the conditions for which they are targeted. So, with the pharmaceutical industry "consistently rising to the occasion to help older Americans live longer and healthier lives," as he says, drug discovery efforts in this growing area show no signs of slowing any time soon.
 
The vast sea of aging-related pharmaceuticals in development also bodes well for drug discovery in other ways. Trewhitt points out that pharmaceutical and biotech companies are always looking for new uses for medicines they have developed, and thus a significant number of the 900 in development now may find other uses later.
 
Moreover, the development work currently going on in this area is giving rise to more technological breakthroughs in discovery methods, from automation and instrumentation advances to more sophisticated and emerging techniques such as proteomics, he points out.
 
Some of the areas that PhRMA highlighted in its report on age-related drug development include Alzheimer's disease, which could afflict 16 million people by the middle of this century if a cure or preventive treatment isn't found, and diabetes, of which half of all cases occur in people over age 55. There is also osteoporosis, a major health threat for  some 44 million Americans age 50 or older; depression, which affects an estimated 6.5 million Americans 65 and older; and age-related macular degeneration, which affects about 3.6 million American over age 70. And, of course, medicines for heart disease, stroke and cancer are strongly represented. Other areas in development include Parkinson's disease, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, bladder and kidney diseases, pain, prostate disease, respiratory and lung disorders and skin conditions.

Jeffrey Bouley

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