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Longevity Bulletin: The pharmacology issue

Matthew Edwards, editor of the IFoA’s Longevity Bulletin, outlines the latest edition, ‘The Pharmacology Issue’, which is available to read now.

Matthew EdwardsThe extraordinary events of this year have made us realise how much we rely on the two fields of epidemiology and pharmacology. Epidemiology has helped quantify and model the spread of the pandemic and its mortality impact; pharmacology offers us tests and, we hope soon, a vaccine.

The latest edition of the IFoA’s Longevity Bulletin looks at these two fields, and how they contributed to the remarkable longevity improvements of the 20th century. Pharmacology gave us antibiotics, largely eliminating known infectious diseases from the developed world, as well as many other generally beneficial drugs. Epidemiology gave us insights into lifestyle risks such as those from smoking, and ways to assess the efficacy of pharmaceutical discoveries – as well, of course, as insights into the current pandemic.

The issue starts by considering whether ‘you can have too much of a good thing’ in the context of drug prescriptions – the issue of polypharmacy, where many of the more elderly are on an astonishing ‘cocktail’ of drugs. Next we explore some of the tenets of epidemiology, looking at some of the highlights as well as the challenges, and draw out lessons of wider application to other fields, such as data analytics.

Reflecting growing concern about the abuse of some pharmaceuticals, we look at the issue of opioids in the UK and the USA, where opioids have led to increased mortality for some population segments. Our final article looks at the ever-growing problem of diabetes, where pharmacology has both helped with metformin and exacerbated the problem with the mass use of statins.

Although much of the material in this issue was written before the pandemic took hold, the two themes considered remain of vital importance. The next issue of the Longevity Bulletin will focus on the pandemic, with particular regard to the likely shape of life – and death – in a ‘post-pandemic’ world.

Download the bulletin