Sep. 22, 1998 Washington, D.C. - Pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies are currently testing 136 new weapons in the arsenal against infectious diseases, according to a new survey by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA). The survey found research projects at 78 companies targeting both old and new emerging infections.
"Infectious diseases are humankind's oldest and most persistent enemy," said PhRMA President Alan F. Holmer. "Vaccines, antibiotics and other medicines have made great progress against these diseases in the United States, banishing many -- including diphtheria, polio, and smallpox -- to the history books. But infectious diseases are still the leading cause of death around the world, and cost more than 100,000 American lives and more than $30 billion in treatment expenses in the U.S. each year. The medicines and vaccines currently being developed by America's pharmaceutical companies provide real hope for reducing that terrible toll."
The medicines in development include 42 vaccines -- including a flu vaccine administered via a nasal spray, the first vaccine for prevention of cervical cancer, and a vaccine to prevent ear infections, which affect 85 percent of all children and cost more than $3 billion a year; 27 antibiotics, including the first in a new class of drugs that, in clinical trials, proved effective against severe infections that were resistant to existing antibiotics and a two-week -- as opposed to a six-month -- drug treatment for tuberculosis; and 31 antivirals, including the first oral treatment of hepatitis B, a major cause of liver cancer.
Although the survey excludes medicines for AIDS -- which will be highlighted in an upcoming survey -- it includes several medicines for the opportunistic infections that attack the weakened immune systems of AIDS patients, such as candidiasis and cryptococcosis. All the medicines listed are either in clinical trials or awaiting approval by the Food and Drug Administration.
To fully understand the value these medicines in development may one day bring, consider the pharmaceutical advances that have already been made and are currently in use to improve health. In the past 10 to 15 years alone, new medicines and vaccines to fight infectious diseases have significantly enhanced public health by saving lives and improving the quality of life. For example:
-- A vaccine for hepatitis B, approved in 1985, has cut the incidence of hepatitis B -- a debilitating disease that is a major cause of liver cancer -- by nearly two-thirds.
-- A pioneer medicine for deadly fungal infections, approved by the FDA in 1990, has saved the lives of millions of AIDS patients, chemotherapy patients, people who have received transplants, and others whose weakened immune systems make them susceptible to these infections.
-- Cases of bacterial meningitis among children dropped nearly 80 percent after the introduction of a vaccine in the late 1980s. The vaccine not only prevented a sometimes fatal disease that causes severe brain damage in about 30 percent of the children who survive it -- it also saved an estimated $135 million a year in hospital costs.
"Thanks to medicines and vaccines, parents don't have to live in fear of polio," said Holmer. "Children don't have to miss school -- and parents don't have to miss work -- because of diseases that were once considered part of a normal childhood. The medicines in development will add to our arsenal against infection."
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) represents the country's leading research-based pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, which are devoted to inventing medicines that allow patients to lead longer, happier, healthier and more productive lives. Investing over $21 billion annually in discovering and developing new medicines, PhRMA companies are leading the way in the search for cures.
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