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We Cannot Overcome Our Healthcare Challenges Without Innovation

26/12/2016 1:33 PM IST | Updated 26/12/2016 2:23 PM IST

Medical innovation in the pharmaceutical industry has resulted in positive results that have undeniably benefited patients and their families. We depend on better and more effective drugs for patients to live better and longer lives. The development of effective medicines has helped eradicate some of the world's most dreaded diseases, such as polio and smallpox. AIDS and cancer are no longer the dreaded death sentences they once were.

Medical research, knowledge transfers and innovation are critical for us to overcome growing healthcare challenges. Everyone stands to gain from innovation, especially those suffering from HIV, tuberculosis, rare cancers, heart disease, diabetes, and vector-borne diseases such as dengue or malaria. The sense of relief a patient and his family members feel when they are told that a new life-saving medicine is now available, cannot be described.

Everyone stands to gain from innovation, especially those suffering from HIV, tuberculosis, rare cancers, heart disease, diabetes, and vector-borne diseases such as dengue or malaria.

The results of innovation in medical science are tangible. We have seen a decline in death rates due to diseases from communicable as well as non-communicable diseases (NCDs), and the quality of life as well as life expectancy worldwide has improved. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), between 2000 and 2009 new therapies accounted for 73% of the increased life expectancy in 30 developing and high-income countries. A study published in the 22 November issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reports that, in the US, the death rate from infectious diseases has dropped from 800 deaths per 100,000 people in 1900 to 46 deaths per 100,000 people in 2014. Innovation has helped halt the spread of HIV and saved millions of people. After 1995, when the first HIV treatments were developed, deaths from the disease dropped dramatically from 15 deaths per 100,000 people to fewer than 5 deaths per 100,000 people each year.

However, 53% of total deaths can be ascribed to NCDs as the underlying cause, even as India still carries a heavy communicable diseases burden. According to the WHO, there were 422 million diabetics in the world in 2014, and almost 70 million of them in India, with this number expected to double to 140 million by 2040. A recent PhRMA report, "Medicines in Development for Diabetes," states that more than 170 medicines are currently in development for diabetes and could offer patients the opportunity to live longer, healthier lives. Similarly, new research in the field of cardiology is also showing good results and 240 new medicines are in various phases of development for the treatment of blood cancers. A new report, produced jointly by PhRMA and the Epilepsy Foundation, states that America's biopharmaceutical research companies are currently developing 420 medicines to combat disorders of the brain, spinal cord and nerves. In 2016, vaccines to prevent epidemics such as ebola and meningococcal B were fast-tracked for approval, so patients could receive them earlier. Global biopharmaceutical research companies are also developing 74 medicines to treat or prevent asthma and this offers hope to numerous patients. Newer and more effective medicines for multiple sclerosis, psoriasis and alzheimer's have also been developed.

Our pharmaceutical companies should be encouraged, and even incentivised, to discover new cures while being assured protection for their intellectual property.

It is time for our nation to assume its rightful place on the world's innovation landscape. Our pharmaceutical companies should be encouraged, and even incentivised, to discover new cures while being assured protection for their intellectual property. Currently, we are known for our generics industry, but we are able to manufacture these generics because an innovator has invented them. Currently, our patients gain access to new medicines several years after they are approved, and sometimes do not have access at all due to regulatory barriers. Patients, living anywhere in the world, should be able to benefit from new discoveries that are taking place, whether at home or globally. Our systems need to embrace innovation for the larger good of our people while building on our internal strengths to create self-sufficiency.

New technology needs to be transferred as new and improved medicines are approved for better health outcomes and decreased side effects. The benefits of these new medicines can only be measured if more and more people have access to them. For governments and the private sector to become viable and invest in research to boost innovation, an enabling environment that fosters innovation is very important. Patients should have knowledge of the new drugs and a legally enabling environment to participate in clinical trials and be able to try the new drugs for hitherto incurable diseases or better outcomes for curable diseases. The results of such trials will encourage innovators to invest in research and thereby create a cycle of demand.

We must recognise medicines as an economic investment rather than a cost to be incurred—medicines cure diseases, improve quality of life and build healthier, more productive populations.

Healthcare for all Indian patients must be prioritised and requires integrated, holistic planning. Our health must become an economic, social and cultural right, and be recognised as a significant contributor to the nation's social and economic climate. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has identified India's poor health outcomes as one of our major developmental challenges. In this context, we must recognise medicines as an economic investment in health rather than a cost to be incurred—because medicines cure diseases, improve quality of life and build healthier and more productive populations. On the issue of funding, we must hold the government accountable for its previous commitment to doubling public expenditure on healthcare over the next two three years.

New mechanisms for healthcare financing must be accorded priority, to increase the patient's ability to pay. At the same time, easy access to rationally priced drugs is also crucial. With innovative healthcare financing, demand will be boosted and lead to sustainable investment as more companies invest in research to invent new medicines for more and more patients to be treated and cured. Finally, we must also bring innovative thinking towards creating public-private partnerships in healthcare. We must create an environment of collaboration, with the patient at its core.

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