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Here’s a look at 2016 through the lens of numbers — the stats of the year in pharma, biotech, health and medical science.

1.3 million

The number of times ads were aired on national television this year promoting prescription and over-the-counter drugs and other health messages.

That estimate comes from media research firm, which places the value of the ads at about $4.6 billion, not taking into account any negotiated discounts. Drug companies are doubling down in the face of criticism about direct-to-consumer marketing — earlier this year, we reported that nine pharma companies were on track to spend $100 million each on TV ad time in 2016.


One sticking point is that advertising seems to drive up the price of drugs. Another is that doctors feel hamstrung when patients ask for a brand-name pill they’ve seen advertised, yet another drug would be cheaper or as effective. And while TV seems to be the favorite ad spot for drug companies, social media and other venues are rapidly gaining ground.




The percent increase in the number of published scientific papers with CRISPR in the title or abstract, from 2011 to 2016.

From early studies that showed how yogurt bacteria use this immune system to fight off viruses, to blockbuster discoveries of how gene mutations could be edited, CRISPR-Cas9 has grown from relative obscurity into the focus of a major patent lawsuit between the University of California Berkeley and the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT. It’s even the plot device of a television show to be produced by Jennifer Lopez.

By 2014, CRISPR was editing genes in mouse embryos, crippling the DNA of hepatitis B and Epstein-Barr viruses in human cells growing in lab dishes, and correcting the gene for Duchenne muscular dystrophy in stem cells created from patients.  In 2015, scientists in China CRISPR’d nonviable human embryos, with partial success: that re-ignited the designer baby arguments. The CRISPR story of 2016 has been using the technique to treat sickle cell disease in animal models and human cells. 2017? Look for the first US use of CRISPR to edit immune cells so they attack cancer.



The number of clinics around the United States offering untested, direct-to-consumer stem cell treatments.

These clinics are raising alarms about the kind of care patients are getting — 18 of them are in Beverly Hills, including one that offers a $20,000 stem cell facial treatment. The products are unregulated, and it’s not always clear what people are actually getting for their money. Stem cells are potentially valuable because they can become nearly any other type of cell in the body. Some stem cell therapeutics have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. What’s being offered in these clinics likely hasn’t.



The percent of overdose deaths in Massachusetts in the third quarter of 2016 where fentanyl was detected.

That is an increase from 57 percent in 2015 — and part of a national trend in which the potent synthetic opioid is rapidly becoming a leading killer. STAT chronicled a harrowing tale of how fentanyl claimed the life of one Ohio man, sending his friend to jail.

Synthetic opioids such as fentanyl are made in laboratories and often shipped to drug dealers from companies in China. You can even get the drug in your mailbox. Opioids like fentanyl were involved in 9,580 deaths nationally in 2015 – an increase of 73 percent from 2014. That figure is expected to rise when 2016 numbers are finalized.



The percentage of Medicaid beneficiaries in Kentucky with hepatitis C who were able to get treatment in fiscal 2016. And it’s not just in that state. Nationwide, the drugs are eating up huge swathes of Medicaid budgets.

The demand is overwhelming; in Kentucky, with a hepatitis C rate 7 times the national average, just a few of the many Medicaid recipients are able to get it. In some cases, a 12-week course has a list price approaching $100,000, and a surge in opioid abuse is spreading the infectious disease like wildfire. The 900 people on Medicaid who got treatment for hep C in 2016 accounted for 5 percent of the program’s pharmacy budget. More than 28,000 people were left untreated.



The drop in the number of live births in Colombia during a nine-month stretch of 2016 (compared to 2015), possibly because of Zika.

The infectious-diseases world spent much of 2016 trying to make sense of the Zika virus outbreak in the Americas, with travel being discouraged and vaccine candidates being raced into clinical trials. One of the most confounding questions remains: Why is Brazil reporting so many more affected babies than any other country?

A recent study by scientists from Colombia and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hints at one possible reason. In late February, Colombia urged women to delay getting pregnant. Over the following nine months, the country reported 18,000 fewer live births than it did for the same period in 2015 — suggesting delayed pregnancies and possibly abortions are altering the Zika picture.



The percent of people seeking hospice care who do so within one week of their deaths.

Overall, nearly half of the dying seek hospice care, but roughly one-third of them do so within a week of dying. Hospice and palliative medicine advocates are pushing to improve both numbers, not just because hospice care has been shown to actually extend a patient’s life, and not just because people who die on hospice care consume far less health care resources than those who die in the hospital.

A pilot project from Medicare is testing hospice care at home, with the hopes that more people will opt for this care. Patients often face less painful deaths while in hospice care, and surviving family members report lasting and positive effects as well.


6.6 billion

The amount of venture capital money that went into private biotech companies in 2016.

It’s a sizable sum, but disappointing in the context of biotech’s recent boom. Last year, $10.3 billion in VC cash flowed into the industry, and the number of individual investments was 37 percent higher.

Biotech’s total share of the global VC pie has also slipped significantly over the past five years, according to Pitchbook, as Silicon Valley software companies Hoover up more and more investor dollars. But drug development is still capable of providing outsize returns: AbbVie’s $10 billion acquisition of cancer biotech Stemcentryx was 2016’s biggest venture-backed buyout deal, minting a fortune for an investor syndicate that included Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund.