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. . . DRUG BREAKTHROUGHS WORTH THE COST

SHARE . . . DRUG BREAKTHROUGHS WORTH THE COST

An examination of recent headlines for just the past four months alone shows the kinds of exciting breakthroughs that are occurring in drug research today. These include:

- A new drug that slows the progress of Parkinson's disease.- A genetically engineered drug that shortens the time it takes severe wounds, such as burns, to heal.

- A new drug that may expand a person's ability to prevent rejection of transplanted organs.

- A group of drugs to treat eating disorders and obesity.

- Several new drugs to treat sickle cell anemia, a dreaded hereditary blood disorder.

Critics of the drug industry who complain about Cadillac prices for new drugs make me think of playwright Oscar Wilde's definition of a cynic - someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Price and value have to be considered hand-in-hand, and to balanced observers the record of the 20th century is quite clear: New medicines have played a crucial role in improving quality of life. Just consider the facts:

- In 1920, the average life expectancy was only 54.1 years. Today, with a healthy 40 percent increase, people can expect to live to be 75. Innovative medicines can be given a lion's share of credit for extending the length of life and enhancing its quality.

- The 372,000 open-heart surgeries conducted in the United States each year today are possible largely because of new medicines. Heart disease deaths have decreased 42 percent over the past 20 years.

- Ulcer drugs have reduced both the pain of ulcers and the need for expensive corrective surgery. One-tenth as many ulcer cases required surgery in 1984 as in 1976.

- The AIDS problem is only eight years old in the United States, and already nine drugs have been approved to treat AIDS and AIDS-related conditions. Fifty-five more AIDS medicines are in human clinical trials.

Are the new drugs on the market today too expensive, as some critics argue? Let's look at the facts.

In 1967, it took an American worker 81 minutes to earn the average cost of a drug prescription. In 1986, it took the same worker only 66 minutes to earn the presciption cost.

New drugs can help save costs throughout the health-care system. A good example: Researchers have concluded that coronary artery bypass surgery in many patients is no more effective than prescription drug treatment in preventing heart attacks or improving survival. And the pharmaceutical therapy is cheaper. While a year of outpatient prescription drug therapy costs a bit more than $1,000, coronary bypass surgery carries a price tag of $30,430.

Of course, the average prescription price has gone up in recent years. The increase largely reflects a dizzying increase in the cost of developing a new drug:

- Corporate drug sponsors spend an average of $125 million to research and develop a single new drug.

- A modern pharmaceutical research laboratory requires a highly specialized building that can cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

- Laboratory equipment that performs state-of-the-art research costs millions of dollars.

The nation's research-based pharmaceutical industry will spend an estimated $7.3 billion on research and development this year - more than the federal government's National Institutes of Health - and that is a trend that will continue into the next century.

New drug research is sustained by the prices you pay for prescription drugs. I wish prices could be lower. But there is no greater value of the money than new drugs which extend life and improve its quality.

(Gerald Mossinghoff is president of the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association.)