In the next two decades, deaths from cancer, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes and a host of other illnesses are poised to soar as the American population ages. Medical advances have already sliced the pie of disease into smaller and smaller biological slivers, making it possible to target a growing range of niche medications to specific subsets of illness.
But at the same time that science is identifying a growing number of potential new cures, the public is providing a smaller number of people willing to volunteer to help test the drugs needed to treat disease.
Today, 85 percent of drug trials face delays because attracting and retaining participants has become so challenging. According to the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development, enrollment rates have dropped 20 percent since 2000, with 2 million volunteers now participating.
Of the 1,000 new drugs being assessed in ongoing clinical trials, more than 700 treat age-related illnesses, according to the Center for Information and Study on Clinical Research Participation, a nonprofit dedicated to educating the public on the need for clinical trials. Almost two-thirds of cancer patients are older adults, as well as 85 percent of people with Parkinson's and 90 percent of people with diabetes.