Paying For Healthy Longevity

The pharmaceutical industry's scientific-medical research process is deeply complex and nuanced, and this complexity has made it fall prey to the prevailing "big pharma" disdain. Our collective, often near blind, love for so many forms of innovation seems oddly to be reserved for "anything but pharmaceutical innovative discovery." Pfizer's new corporate advertisement is therefore a much-needed correction: Pfizer's one-minute video, "Before It Became a Medicine," offers a compelling, enlightening story of how a drug develops from idea, to molecule, to medicine and then for us.

In sixty seconds, we learn how a dozen or more years of science, medicine, regulation and human invention bring a drug to our lives. We also see why there are real and substantial monetary costs to a breakthrough medicine. Let's hope that Pfizer, by illustrating this process - one fraught with setbacks and incredible investments - can help garner public understanding for much-needed innovation. What happened since the early days of pharmaceutical innovation when the antibiotics revolution was heralded for its deep and broad social value?

When did miracle discovery become so devalued?

How did it come to pass that this industry became little more than a scapegoat for political talking points? The pharmaceutical industry has become the object of derision over the past couple decades. Al Gore's 2000 American presidential campaign marked a high-water moment in this swelling critique, as Mr. Gore juxtaposed "Big Pharma" alongside "Big Tobacco" as a central part of his populist message, which, no doubt helped him win the popular vote that year.

When and why did we forget that the pharmaceutical industry has been at the center of transforming infectious disease from a death sentence to an inconvenience; that in the years following the antibiotic revolution it also discovered and brought to global populations treatments and even cures for everything from heart disease to diabetes to cancer? How did we come to take for granted that industry's reasonable claim for at least some of responsibility for 21st century longevity; its role right along with toilets and clean water and refrigeration. Is it that this is also the one that must, by necessity, put a price tag on these "miracles?" Perhaps It's this disconnect between the cost of an invention and the value of that miracle that has gotten us so hung up.

This is the genius of the one-minute Pfizer video: with phenomenal economy, it tells the decades-long story of how medical innovation comes to our medicine cabinets. It offers a persuasive case of why innovation must have a price tag. And, let's hope, it tells a story that will be understood.

This is a big deal. As global society reaps the benefits of longevity -- 1 billion of us over 60 and 2 billion by midcentury -- what can be more compelling than finding ways to make that longevity healthier? Better health will give us quality in our long lives. Healthy and active aging will ensure that longevity and economic growth can, in our time, not only live side-by-side but also be mutually re-enforcing. An essential partner in this quest will be the innovative pharmaceutical sector, if we let it.

The research required for more treatment and cures -- for cancers, Alzheimer's, Zika or HIV/AIDS -- has real costs. And society ought to embrace those costs if it wants the progress -- progress not only in treatment and cures for disease, but also the advances for activity, engagement, fun and joy in our long lives.

Just two weeks ago, the World Health Assembly passed the new WHO Health and Ageing Strategy, which focuses on achieving "functional ability" through such areas as skin, oral, and nutritional health, better elder caregiving, and, yes, progress for NCDs from Alzheimer's to stroke. But realizing the WHO's vision will have costs. And it is the story offered by Pfizer that will enable global society to embrace those costs, and understand them as investments.

In modern society, we have grown accustomed to the ways that Madison Avenue shapes our lives and provides a lens of interpretation to complexity. The fascination -- obsession, even -- with Super Bowl ads matches the tens of millions spent on advertising for the World Cup or Olympics. But now Pfizer is using this same medium to tell a story that is emotionally appealing and intellectually compelling. A modern story that can be told, also, through the ultra-modern, 21st century medium online. And one that is succinct enough to present complexity to our otherwise inattentive consciousness. Wow!

See it and appreciate it, not only for its message but for the use of this medium in 21st century modern society. A lesson in medical science and innovation. A story about the politics and human approach to decision making. An illustration of corporate interest in the social acceptance of its business model -- shared value, for sure. And, effectively, a public service announcement about how pharmaceutical research really works.

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