Just how serious are the nation’s drug and pharmaceutical companies about developing new medicines designed to close the gap of unequal health outcomes between African Americans and the white majority? Judging from a recent survey by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), a national association representing the country’s leading research-based pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms, the answer appears to be: very serious indeed.

The survey results, published in September 2002, reveal that PhRMA member companies are currently working on no fewer than 249 new medicines for diseases that disproportionately affect black Americans or are among the top ten causes of death for this population. This represents a more than 50% increase since 1999, when 156 such medicines were in development.

The arsenal of new medications in the pipeline includes:

• 90 cancer drugs, including medicines that target cancers of the colon, esophagus, larynx, liver, lung, pancreas, prostate, stomach and uterus. Generally, African Americans are more likely to develop cancer than whites and are about 30% more likely to die of the disease.

• 53 potential medicines for respiratory diseases, including asthma–which kills black Americans at three times the rate of the majority population–and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which kills more than 5,000 African Americans each year.

• 22 HIV/AIDS drugs. AIDS death rates for African Americans are nearly ten times higher than for whites.

• 19 medicines for treating cardiovascular disease (CVD), including coronary artery disease, heart attack, heart failure, stroke and hypertension. CVD death rates for African-American men are nearly 50% higher than for white men, and 67% higher for black women than for their white counterparts.

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Other medicines in development target diabetes, sickle cell disease, kidney failure, eye disorders and obesity.
 

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