Over the years, there have been tremendous advancements in the field of pharmaceuticals. Treatments for AIDS, cancers, and more have recently been introduced, and the near future promises even more remarkable breakthroughs, with drugs that may be able to treat more diseases than ever, with fewer side effects.How are we achieving these new breakthroughs, and what will it mean for the future of medicine?
One of the biggest trends in pharmaceuticals research these days is what they are calling personalized medicine. Personalized medicine refers to the growing understanding of the role of genetics in making individuals susceptible to certain types of diseases. Genetics may also influence a person’s responsiveness to treatment. Personalized treatments can ensure that people get treatment they will respond to, often with minimal side effects.
Research in personalized medicine has skyrocketed. According to a report released in January 2013, 94% of pharmaceuticals companies are investing in personalized medicine research, and the number of personalized medicine treatments rose 454% from 2006 to 2011.
Emphasis on Rare Diseases
So-called “rare” diseases are those that affect less than 200,000 people in the US. Although that’s a small amount in comparison to the more than 300 million people living in the US, that’s still potentially a relatively large number, and taken together “rare” diseases affect more than 30 million Americans, nearly 1 in 10 of the population.
Many of the new treatments in development target these rare diseases, providing new hope for patients who have never before had a drug approved for their condition. In fact, in some areas up to 84% of all treatments in development are expected to become first-in-class medications, a drug unlike any before it, either because it treats a new condition or because it takes a novel approach to treatment.
Better Understanding of Conditions - Pharmaceuticals
One important step toward creating better medications is better understanding the conditions themselves. For example, looking at the way cancer demands improved blood supply led to the creation of angiogenesis inhibitors, which prevent the growth of blood vessels to starve cancers.
Another important step is understanding that many conditions are not just one type of illness, but are actually many distinct types grouped under one label. For example, tinnitus, a condition for which there is no approved medication, is actually many different types of conditions that have distinct causes and effects. By isolating the different types, it may be possible to overcome limitations of previous trials and find effective treatments for each type separately.
Other companies are betting that the future in pharmaceuticals won’t be drugs at all. Instead, manufacturers like GlaxoSmithKline think that electroceuticals are the future of medicine. In these treatments, electric shocks are used to accomplish treatments that drugs cannot. With electric treatments already developed for migraines, central sleep apnea, and more, this may not be far off.
Will the Future Be Better?
However, it’s also important to wonder whether these new treatments will improve our quality of life or ultimately just lead to new problems, such as the current problem of prescription drug poisoning. The key lies not in the medicines themselves, but in our doctors’ abilities to understand and control the medications, and in our ability to keep an eye on our doctors. Every person will have to take even more responsibility for their own medical treatments as these new treatments develop and changes.
Featured images: Pharmaceuticals
- License: Creative Commons image source
Dr. Matthew B. Candelaria (PhD, U of Kansas 2006) is a freelance writer and futurist. As an author of science fiction and science fact articles, he believes in the power of technology to both save and destroy, and the ability of the individual to make the difference between the two.