Biotechnology's Impact on Diseases of the Elderly: A White Paper

Executive Summary

As people age they walk a minefield of life-threatening and debilitating diseases.  Coronary heart disease, stroke, cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, chronic renal failure, diabetes mellitus and osteoporosis are among the most destructive.

“Biotechnology’s Impact on Diseases of the Elderly: A White Paper” describes the costs of these eight age related illnesses in human and economic terms. It also examines some of the biotech medicines on the market and in development to treat the diseases and details their impact on patients’ quality of life and health-care expenditures.

The report demonstrates not only that biotech medicines on the market have the most impact on treating elderly patients, but also that biotech drugs and vaccines in development represent even greater promise for improving the health and quality of life of senior citizens. 

The study highlights 20 marketed drugs and 57 of the more than 350 drugs and vaccines in latestage clinical trials. All these biotech medicines reduce the need for expensive hospitalization and nursing home care and are far less invasive than most traditional therapies. In some instances, the report documents actual per patient cost savings achieved by biotech drugs. 

For example, Epogen®, a protein drug used to treat anemia associated with chronic renal failure and cancer chemotherapy, reduces the need for blood transfusions to replenish red blood cells, resulting in a 23 percent per patient cost savings. Leukine® and Neupogen®, protein drugs used to restore white blood cells destroyed by cancer chemotherapy, reduce the need for bone marrow transplants, saving tens of thousands of dollars per patient. Another drug, the phosphate binder RenaGel® for chronic renal failure, saves $1,500 per patient by reducing hospitalizations.


The human cost of these illnesses on tens of millions of patients and their families is not quantifiable. The economic cost is $451 billion a year in the United States, the majority expended for hospital and nursing home care.

Biotechnology, the study demonstrates, offers the best hope for improving seniors’ health and reducing health care costs because it uncovers the molecular causes of disease and develops diagnostics that help prevent illnesses and therapies that treat the causes, not just symptoms.

“Biotechnology’s Impact on Diseases of the Elderly” was prepared by PAREXEL International Medical Marketing Services Inc. for the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO).

Alzheimer's disease, cancer (breast, colorectal, lung and prostate), chronic renal failure, coronary heart disease (angina and acute myocardial infarction), diabetes mellitus, osteoporosis, Parkinson's disease and stroke were selected because they represent the most intractable and life-threatening age-related diseases.

The report presents a disease digest for each, including an overview of the disease; summary of the impact of current biotechnology products on the disease; summary of the promise of future biotechnology products for treating the disease; list of references; and tables detailing the information described in the digest.


Among the eight disease areas reviewed, they have the greatest impact on the elderly based on the following specific criteria:

  • Prevalence - osteoporosis, coronary heart disease, and diabetes.
  • Mortality - coronary heart disease, cancer (all types), stroke, and diabetes.
  • Cost - coronary heart disease, cancer (all types), Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes.
  • QoL - less comparative information is available here , but all eight diseases substantially affect QoL. Topping the list, however, would certainly be the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and diabetes, and severe cases of stroke and coronary heart disease.
  • Overall - diseases with the greatest unmet need, those that appear on more than one of the above lists, are coronary heart disease, cancer, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes.

The report discusses the following marketed biotechnology products:

  • Epogen®, Procrit®, Renagel®, Orthoclone OK®T3, Simulect®, and Zenapax® for chronic renal failure.
  • Epogen®, Procrit®, Herceptin®, Leukine®, and Neupogen® for the various cancers.
  • ReoPro®, Retavase®, Activase®, and Integrelin® for coronary heart disease.
  • Prandin®, Humalog®, Humulin®, and Novolin® for diabetes mellitus.
  • Activase® for stroke.

Of the biotechnology products in the pipeline, the report looks at 57 across the eight disease areas as follows:

  • Cancer, 11 products.
  • Parkinson’s disease, 11 products.
  • Alzheimer’s disease, 10 products.
  • Coronary heart disease, 7 products.
  • Diabetes mellitus, 7 products.
  • Chronic renal failure, 4 products.
  • Osteoporosis, 4 products.
  • Stroke, 3 products.



Over the past 25 years many new biotechnology products have been developed to treat the growing health-care needs of senior citizens.  This research report demonstrates that biotechnology products have had a substantial impact on treating elderly patients in the eight major disease categories examined.  The data also present examples of the numerous new products under development that hold even greater promise for improving the health and quality of life of seniors.


This study represents a snapshot of biotechnology’s contributions and promise after a quarter century of research and development. The future is even more exciting based on the rapid rate of progress in genetic research and the completion in June 2000 of a rough draft of the human genome sequence, which will accelerate the search for disease causes and cures.

BIO represents more than 900 biotech companies, academic institutions and state biotech centers in all 50 U.S. states and in 26 other nations. BIO members are involved in the research and development of health-care, agricultural, industrial and environmental biotechnology products.

This report is available on BIO’s Web site at For more information contact Dan Eramian, Charles Craig or Lisa Dry at (202) 857-0244.

Click here to read the full document (PDF).