Medicine development

Medicines and vaccines are some of the most important ways we have to fight disease on a global scale and keep people fit and healthy.

Medicines and vaccines have an incredible track record over many decades of treating and preventing diseases right around the world.


In the UK, they've contributed to an extra 10 years of life expectancy since the 1960s, a doubling of cancer survival over the last 40 years, and HIV has gone from really a death sentence to a chronic disease for those patients that get access to the right medicines.


Looking to the future, pharmaceutical industry is spending hundreds of billions of pounds to develop new medicines.


7000 medicines are in development and many of those medicines will never reach the patient unfortunately, because many of them will fail in the 10 to 12 years it takes to develop those medicines, but that failure is worth going through.


Producing medicines is a highly risky, very expensive process but it's worth going through that failure, and it's worth spending those billions of pounds in order to treat diseases that cannot be treated today and that's exactly what pharmaceutical industries do.

How are medicines developed?

Cancer survival rates

Globally the pharmaceutical industry is working on researching and developing more than 7,000 potential new medicines and vaccines to treat and sometimes cure conditions like cancers, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and very rare genetic diseases.

Cancer Survival 1960 2016
Life Expectancy 1960 2016

Life expectancy 1960-2016

Since the 1960’s medicines and vaccines have helped increase life expectancy by more than ten years, turned HIV AIDs from a death sentence to a manageable disease and made strides in eradicating malaria. We’re now seeing exciting new personalised therapies treating and curing more diseases including cancers.

Research and development success

Every year our companies put hundreds of billions of pounds into new research and development – more than any other industry.

Despite many failures, some of these medicines and vaccines will help to transform the lives of NHS patients in the future.

It’s a high-risk industry, but one which helps save and prolong the lives of millions of people around the world every day.

Research And Development Success

Last modified: 16 May 2024

Last reviewed: 16 May 2024