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Potential Societal Impact of Drugs to Treat Diseases of Aging
Rapid advances in the field of aging research in the past five years have prompted economists and epidemiologists to calculate the potential impact of drugs that broadly treat diseases of aging. A recent paper from RAND7 comparing several promising experimental therapies concluded that drugs that treated diseases of aging by mimicking CR would be the most cost effective, costing perhaps one-tenth as much per additional year of healthy life as more common medical interventions for specific diseases such as cancer, stroke, and heart disease (figure 3). Given the progress of clinical work on such drugs and the long list of reputable scientists who are backing that work, it is feasible that drugs that are broadly effective against diseases of aging could hit the market within the next decade. Success is by no means guaranteed, but it is worth pondering the remarkable fact that serious drug development has entered a space that was until recently the realm of science fiction.

Figure 3. Cost-benefit analysis of selected future therapies (adapted from Goldman et al., 2005 RAND study). The estimated cost per additional year of healthy life for drugs targeting diseases of aging, $8,790, is roughly one-half the cost of stroke treatment, one-tenth the cost of cardiac defibrillators, and one-fifteenth the cost of diabetes prevention.

1.Guarente, L. and Kenyon, C. Genetic pathways that regulate ageing in model organisms. Nature 408: 255-262 (2000).

2. Heilbronn, L. K. et al. Effect of 6-month calorie restriction on biomarkers of longevity, metabolic adaptation, and oxidative stress in overweight individuals: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of the American Medical Association 295: 1539-1548 (2006).

3.Ingram, D. K. et al. Calorie restriction mimetics: an emerging research field. Aging Cell 5: 97-108 (2006).

4. Sinclair, D. A. Toward a unified theory of caloric restriction and longevity regulation. Mechanisms of Ageing and Development (2005).

5.Cohen, H. Y. et al. Calorie restriction promotes mammalian cell survival by inducing the SIRT1 deacetylase. Science 305: 390-392 (2004).

6.Howitz, K. T. et al. Small molecule activators of sirtuins extend Saccharomyces cerevisiae lifespan. Nature 425: 191-196 (2003).

7.Goldman, D. P. et al. Consequences of Health Trends and Medical Innovation for the Future Elderly. Journal of Health Affairs, Sept. 26, 2005, electronic publication ahead of print.

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