Consider two numbers: 800,000 and 21.

The first is the number of medical research papers that were published in 2008. The second is the number of new drugs that were approved by the Food and Drug Administration last year.

That’s an ocean of research producing treatments by the drop. Indeed, in recent decades, one of the most sobering realities in the field of biomedical research has been the fact that, despite significant increases in funding — as well as extraordinary advances in things like genomics, computerized molecular modeling, and drug screening and synthesization — the number of new treatments for illnesses that make it to market each year has flatlined (pdf) at historically low levels.

And before anyone jumps to pin the blame on the F.D.A., it’s important to note that it’s not just new drug approvals that have declined — new drug applications have, too. Last year the F.D.A. received just 23.


Here are the conditions treated for those 23 drugs:

 Multiple Sclerosis (384,000 people in the US)

 Pompe disease (90 patients in the US have this)

 NAGS Deficiency Hyperammonemia (320 patients per year diagnosed)

 Dupuytren’s Contracture (21,100 people in the US have this)

 Osteoporosis (416,000 people in the US)


 Prevention of Thromboembolism in Atrial Fibrillation

 Varicose Vein

 Schizophrenia (430,000 people in the US)

 Breast Cancer (1.35 million people in the US)

 Pneumonia, Skin and Structure Infection

 Rheumatoid Arthritis, Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (about 1 million people in the US)

 Postcoital Contraception

 Cervical Dystonia, Blepharospasm, Glabellar Lines (about 30,000 people in the US)

 Diabetes Mellitus Type II (about 25 million people in the US)

 Prostate Cancer (965,000 people in the US)

 Gout (385,000 people in the US)

 Gaucher Disease (10,600 people in the US)

 Reduction of Excess Abdominal Fat in HIV-Infected Patients with Lipodystrophy (5000 people in the US)

 Allergic Conjunctivitis (425,000 people in the US)