Americans are living longer and as a result, the number of people 65 years of age and older with serious chronic conditions is also increasing. Pharmaceutical companies are rushing to cash in by developing drugs to treat the nearly 50 million Medicare beneficiaries who are battling conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and osteoarthritis.
Currently, about 435 drugs primarily targeting seniors are either in clinical trials or under review by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), according to a report by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. Among them, 110 are designed to treat diabetes, 68 are for Alzheimer’s, 62 for arthritis, and 61 for heart disease. Surprisingly, those numbers are down from last year, when 142 diabetes drugs, 92 arthritis drugs and 82 treatments for Alzheimer’s were in development.
However, the path to new treatments “is a long and risky road,” the report warns. Drugs that actually make it into clinical trials only have about a 16 percent chance of eventually being marketed in the United States. Clinical trials and the FDA review process are designed not only to test the effectiveness of medications, but also flesh out potential side effects. In some cases, adverse events can be life threatening.
This is particularly true with drugs to treat type 2 diabetes. Years after Actos was approved, reports showed use of the drug increased the risk for bladder cancer. Recent studies show newer type 2 diabetes drugs such as Byetta and Januvia can increase the risk for acute pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer.