New drugs are only 36% better than placebo. Know how much more effective they used to be?


Despite Spending $50 Billion Per Year In R&D, Pharma’s New Drugs Less Effective Than Drugs Developed 40 Years Ago
[Via Techdirt]

More bad news has arrived for consumers. The drugs don’t work. Or, they don’t work as well as they used to. Despite the exorbitant prices charged for new medications and despite the industry’s claims that expensive R&D efforts are driving these prices up, the fact remains that newer drugs cost more and do less, riding a decades-long slide from peak potency.

Research published on Monday showed that the effectiveness of new drugs, as measured by comparing the response of patients on those treatments to those taking a placebo, has plummeted since the 1970s…

The new study in the journal Health Affairs examined 315 clinical trials that compared a drug to a placebo and were published in four of the world’s top medical journals (BMJ, Journal of the American Medical Association, Lancet and New England Journal of Medicine) from 1966 to 2010. The drugs targeted the full range of human ills, from cardiovascular disease and infections to cancer, mental disorders and respiratory illness.

In the early years, drugs easily beat the placebo: They were, on average, 4.5 times as effective, where effectiveness means how well they lowered blood pressure, vanquished tumors, lifted depression or did whatever else they were intended to.

But the trend line was inexorably downhill, found Dr Mark Olfson of Columbia University and statistician Steven Marcus of the University of Pennsylvania. By the 1980s drugs were less than four times better; by the 1990s, twice as good, and by the 2000s just 36 percent better than a placebo. Since older drugs were much superior to placebo and newer ones only slightly so, that means older drugs were generally more effective than newer ones.


Drugs approved 40 years ago are 4.5 times better than placebo. Those approved 30 years ago are 4 time better. Those approved 20 years ago are 2 times better.

Those approved in the last 10 years are only 0.36 times better than no drug at all. 

Looks like in another 10 years they will be selling drugs just as good as a placebo.

And generally older drugs are much cheaper than new ones. This is the death spiral Big Pharma finds itself.

It costs more to develop new drugs that are generally less effective that they used to be. Marketing can only take them so far.

I think the best approach will be to use personal medicine to keep healthy people healthy.