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A well reputed professor of neurology once mentioned to me that no drugs have been invented to cure human afflictions since the 1950's or 60's. Are there any drugs that have been invented since that time that are permanent cures of human ailments?

This is somewhat related to:

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    I think the claim is that all the new molecules found after the fifties are nothing more than better versions of the same concepts. – Sklivvz May 12 '11 at 19:54
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    That professor should have his medical license revoked. >:-( – Konrad Rudolph May 12 '11 at 20:38
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    Does Viagra count? ... I mean for jetlag – Oliver_C May 12 '11 at 20:42
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    Possibly off-topic: You can't really expect to accurately predict technological advancement by linear extrapolation anyway (even Moore's Law isn't really a law). Tech in any field goes through breakthoughs, then lulls, it doesn't steadily increase at a constant rate. – Monkey Tuesday May 12 '11 at 21:19
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    Do vaccines count? If so, there's Human Papilloma Virus (2000s), Chicken Pox (1995), Measels (1963), and Polio (1961/1955), just to name a few. – ESultanik May 13 '11 at 2:09
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That is an incorrect statement, if we're stricts.

If you look for drug examples,

That said, it is true that the pace in which cures have been achieved diminished considerably. We could hypothesise for a long time about why this is happening, including (but clearly not limited to) stricter regulations and higher costs, for example.

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    I suspect there's the low-hanging fruit principle. We got cures for the easier-to-cure stuff first. – David Thornley May 13 '11 at 0:13
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    @David absolutely, that's one of the probable reasons also. – Aleadam May 13 '11 at 0:21
  • @Aleadam: Unless I've misread them, the reference indicates that bone marrow transplants started in the 1960's between twins; similarly stents have been around since at least World War II according to the reference. – Brian M. Hunt May 13 '11 at 16:04
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    Statins are not cures. – Loren Pechtel Aug 21 '18 at 18:38
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    @jwenting Cure: Take it for a period, then quit. The problem is solved. (Example: Antibiotics.) Control: The problem is only solved while you take it. (Example: Statins.) – Loren Pechtel Aug 23 '18 at 5:23
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Let’s have a look at the list of drugs approved in the USA in 2011 alone – particularly at the active ingredients, since presumably this is what the professor meant because it’s what “makes the cure tick”.

  • Ioflupane, not a cure in the strict sense (a carrier for a radioactive iodine isotope) entered into the database in 2005.
  • Spinosyn D, first described in 1998 according to PubMed.
  • Vilazodone hydrochloride, entered into the database in 2006.
  • Roflumilast, first published in 2001 according to PubMed.

the list goes on. The claim is so trivially wrong and, quite frankly, ridiculous that I can’t help wondering in what context it was used.

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    Could you also explain what ailments these active ingredients permanently cure? – Lagerbaer May 12 '11 at 21:36
  • The cited drugs and their links don't indicate that these chemicals cure anything, or at least anything that hadn't already been cured (probably by something cheaper, pardon my cynicism). – Brian M. Hunt May 12 '11 at 23:15
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    @Lagerbaer “Permanently” is a pretty restrictive definition of cure. But Spinosyn D permanently cures a lice infection. – Konrad Rudolph May 13 '11 at 6:35
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    @Brian Spinosyn D cures lice infection. “or at least anything that hadn't already been cured” – again, this is a pretty restrictive, and not very useful, definition. If a new cure works better, or works for different people, it’s a valid investment. Your cynicism is misplaced without evidence. – Konrad Rudolph May 13 '11 at 6:36
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    @Lagerbaer -- Can you provide an instance of any ailments and active ingredients that provided permanent cures before the 1950s? "Permanent" and "cure" just aren't things that go together much. You can become reinfected with most things, in addition to the fact that as you get older, things just start failing to work, so prior "fixes" fail... – Russell Steen May 13 '11 at 17:22
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Here's one pretty much picked at random. There have been quite a few antibiotics - entirely new classes - developed since the 1960s. These antibiotics cure disease.

Other chemotherapeutic agents (antibiotics are a type of chemotherapy) have also been developed since the 60s and these agents cure cancer.

So the answer is a resounding, 'Yes'.

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  • Thanks; Does Imipenem cure anything that was not cured before? (e.g. MRSA?) – Brian M. Hunt May 13 '11 at 15:45
  • @Brian: A MRSA infection is quite curable. You wouldn't choose Imipenem though as it's a β-Lactam (same Phylum, if you will, as penicillins and cephalosporins). MRSA is resistant to β-Lactam antibiotics. I'd be very hesitant to say that Imipenem cures bacterial infections that have not been cured before. It's role is to work where penicillins or cephalosporins formerly did, but now don't due to growing resistance. – user2466 May 13 '11 at 16:42
  • @BrianM.Hunt One shouldn't look at antibiotics as a redundant development because previously developed antibiotics tend to stop being effective over time. Thus, although a new antibiotics may cure things that previously had a cure but it may also cure things that previously had a cure but currently does not have a cure or will not have a cure in the future – slebetman Aug 24 '18 at 10:53
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I've started a community wiki to consolidate the answers.

The professor I spoke with mentioned one drug that was discovered, alas serendipitously, by Barnett Rosenberg that effectively cures (with over 85% success) testicular and ovarian cancer: Cisplatin. This is an ideal counter-example to the skepticism (though at it's heart the skepticism is about the ability of our economic and legal incentives to procure cures, pardon the pun).

Are there any other drugs that effectively cure anything that had not already been cured? Ideal answer would be listed as:

  • date, Cure, ailments cured (references)

Drugs that do not qualify as cures include those that are not cures (i.e. address symptoms), those that are ineffective (i.e. never go "flat" on the cure rate model of e.g. Berkson and Gage, etc). I would consider vaccines to be cures because they effectively cure the spread of disease, and further they're cost effective prevention.

There are two issues that present challenges when answering this question:

  1. Drugs that improve on existing cures; and
  2. Advancements in treatment of symptoms.

Improving cures

A drug improves a cure if the number of people surviving increases significantly. When asserting that this invention is an improvement, a reference ought to give the measure of improvement.

Advances in treatments

While there have been significant advances in treatment of symptoms (AIDS, type-I diabetes, etc), proper cures of the same would respectively be: an anti-viral that eliminates HIV; a drug that eliminates the need for treatment of diabetes. I also acknowledge that some treatments have advanced, such as childhood cancers, while there are questions of long-term survival rates and recurrence, the real issue is whether the ailment can be permanently resolved.


Cures discovered since 1969:

  • I do not think creating a wiki for this is a good idea. It will be severely incomplete at least. If you are serious about compiling info, I suggest you to read the Annual Reviews in Medicine, write to the medical societies and start a series of interviews with specialist physicians so they can tell you the advances in each field. The info you may get here will not be enough for any compilation. – Aleadam May 13 '11 at 22:10
  • @Aleadam: It's a fair point to be sure, and I'll think about how to address it with a comment in the wiki, but the point of the Wiki would be to compile a list of some compelling examples to refute the skepticism. It needn't be exhaustive, only persuasive. – Brian M. Hunt May 14 '11 at 0:46
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Omeprazole was released in the 1980s. Other 'meprazoles' have appeared later. They are all proton pump inhibitors.

They are commonly used as part of triple-therapy (i.e. Omeprazole & Amoxicillin & Clarithromycin) for Helicobacter pylori eradication. Successful eradication will cure most peptic ulcers.

The Australian Barry Marshall was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for 'discovery of the bacterium Helicobacter pylori and its role in gastritis and peptic ulcer disease'.

Granted, Amoxicillin is an older drug, but Clarithromycin was released in the late 1980s.

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  • That Helicobacter reference is great. What do proton pump inhibitors do? :o – Brian M. Hunt May 13 '11 at 20:58
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    @Brian: PPIs work as extremely effective 'antacids'. In fact, they stop H+ ions from being secreted into the stomach. Their mechanism of action is quite intriguing and I believe they are a product of rational drugs design (i.e. we have a target receptor and we design the drug to 'fit' it). This is opposed to 'brute force' drug design which is far and away the most common technique (e.g. combinatorial chemistry). – user2466 May 14 '11 at 2:12
  • Cool. I had understand the discovery of cures to generally correlate with the utterance of "huh". – Brian M. Hunt May 14 '11 at 2:24
  • @BrianM.Hunt they prevent my stomach from producing so much acid it flows into my lungs... Yes, I've had that happen, it wasn't a nice experience at all. – jwenting Aug 22 '18 at 9:16
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Here's another class of drug that I didn't think of before: Antidotes.

Flumazenil is a benzodiazepine antagonist. It was released in the 1980s. Benzodiazepines are commonly used sedatives. It's not uncommon to see patients in the A&E Department having administered an intentional benzodiazepine overdose. Due to their CNS depressant properties, benzodiazepine overdose is associated with respiratory depression, reduced psychomotor function, right through to coma and death (although death is uncommon when only benzodiazepines are involved).

Flumazenil will very effectively reverse the effects of benzodiazepines. It does have a fairly limited clinical use mind you.

The question is: Is intensional benzodiazepine overdose a 'human affliction'?

NB: Other places to look for new 'cures' would include anti-venoms, chelation therapy, radioactive isotopes, fentanyl analogues administered intrathecally (in order for this to be a pain 'cure' it would require that the patient die fairly soon after these were administered). There may be some others.

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