9 Drug Approvals That Changed the Future of Medicine

Wendy Henderson avatar

by Wendy Henderson |

Share this article:

Share article via email

When people think of wonder drugs they think back to Alexander Fleming’s penicillin, the world’s first antibiotic. They may also think of aspirin, used as a painkiller and also as an anti-clotting agent for patients with a high risk of stroke or heart failure.

But there are thousands of drugs that have changed the course of history and saved lives or enhanced the quality of life for millions of people around the world.

Here are some of the biggest approvals in the last 10 years:

Spinraza (Nusinersen)
A new drug approved by the FDA in December 2016, Spinraza is used for children and adults with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). Clinical trials of the drug found that infants taking Spinraza showed significant development improvements with 40 percent reaching milestones that babies with type 1 SMA typically do not reach, such as rolling, crawling, sitting up and standing. Find out more about Spinraza here.

MORE: Spinraza clinical trial confirms treatment benefits in all SMA types.

Prozac (Fluoxetine)
Used for treating depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, panic attacks and bulimia, Prozac is the world’s most widely prescribed antidepressant. Approved by the FDA in December 1987, Prozac works by controlling the serotonin levels in the brain. Source: World History Project

MORE: Five areas that need to be carefully cared for when you have SMA.

Zidovudine (AZT)
Zidovudine (also known as AZT) is a drug used for HIV and AIDS patients and was approved by the FDA in 1987. It reduces the amount of HIV in a patient’s body. It is often used in conjunction with lamivudine and abacavir to help stop or slow the production of HIV, allowing the patient’s immune system to build and making them less susceptible to potentially deadly infections. (Source: Aidsmap.com)

MORE: First adult patient in Arizona is treated with Spinraza.


In 1922, Canadian doctor Frederick Banting discovered that extracting insulin from the pancreas of a dog could help diabetic patients. The insulin was later taken from pigs and cows rather than dogs but some patients had an allergic reaction to it. Genentech created the first synthetic insulin in 1978—recombinant DNA insulin— which didn’t cause an allergic reaction and could be mass produced, changing the lives of diabetes patients the world over. (Source: howstuffworks.com)

MORE: Gene therapy may help babies with type 1 SMA.

Digoxin is derived from the digitalis plant (foxglove) and is a drug used for patients who have an irregular heartbeat or have suffered heart failure. The drug makes the heart beat faster pumping more blood around the body. It was first available as an injection in 1982 and then in a tablet form in 1997. (Source: everydayhealth.com)

MORE: EMA panel recommends the approval of Biogen’s Spinraza in Europe.

Rifampicin (Rifadin)
Rifampicin is one of the leading drugs used to treat tuberculosis. It is an antibiotic that can also be used to treat MRSA where other antibiotics have failed. It was introduced to the world in 1967. (Source: Rifampicin.com)

MORE: Child with SMA dismissed as a “lazy baby” now thriving on Spinraza.

Widely used for the treatment of asthma and other lung diseases such as bronchiectasis and COPD. The drug was discovered in 1966 and used as an inhaler treatment in 1969.

MORE: Spinraza’s benefit to infants with type 1 SMA detailed at AAN meeting.

Birth Control Pill
The contraceptive pill revolutionized the lives of women in the 1960s. First marketed as a drug to treat menstrual disorders, its birth control properties meant that women had smaller families and were able to pursue careers outside of the home. It was first introduced in the U.K. to married women in 1961. (Source: BBC.co.uk)

MORE: Adult with SMA shares his perspective on Spinraza.

Levodopa is used in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease and derived from the vicia faba (fava bean) plant. Levodopa (or L-dopa) converts into dopamine, the chemical in the brain lost in Parkinson’s patients. It has been used as a treatment for the disease since the late 1960s. (Source: stylecraze.com)

MORE: The importance of clinical trials in SMA.

SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.