In 2014 the House Energy and Commerce Committee held eight hearings on developing legislation that would help accelerate the development of new treatments for cancer and other serious diseases. In April the following year our blog called on Congress to stop talking and take action and we were thrilled in July of 2015 when the House passed the 21st Century Cures Act, likely the only piece of legislation that the House Republicans and President Obama both supported. Unfortunately the Senate decided to bicker over the funding level for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the legislation appeared to die in a partisan stalemate.
But just when we thought another year would end without Congressional action, the lame duck took off — Congress passed and the President signed the landmark 21st Century Cures Act. The Colon Cancer Alliance applauds members of Congress and the President for putting politics aside and enacting a law that provides a major stimulus to scientific research and sweeping reforms to speed getting new treatments to patients. Some of the key provisions in the law include:
- Provides $1.8 billion in funding for the Cancer Moonshot. Last January in his State of the Union address, President Obama announced the Cancer Moonshot, an initiative led by Vice President Joe Biden designed to make more therapies available to more patients, while also improving our ability to prevent cancer and detect it at an early stage. This summer the Colon Cancer Alliance applauded the work of the Cancer Moonshot Task Force on the development of specific objectives including ways to increase screening for colon cancer. However, none of these objectives can be achieved without funding and the 21st Century Cures Act will enable to moonshot to take off with a significant initial investment.
- In the 2015 State of the Union address, President Obama announced the Precision Medicine initiative designed to move drug discovery away from a “one-size-fits-all” approach to one that recognizes each patient is unique. The 21st Century Cures Act provides support for the initiative.
- The law provides broad reform to the byzantine maze of the Food and Drug (FDA) approval process. This helps patients in two ways: first, it should help reduce the more than 12 years it currently takes for a new drug to be approved; second, it should reduce the cost of developing many new drugs.
- For years our research investment through NIH has not even kept up with inflation; the 21st Century Cures Act will make a $4.8 billion dollar investment in research.
- The law also addresses Alzheimer’s research, provides funding to address the opioid epidemic and improves mental health parity.
The provisions in the 21st Century Cures Act are extensive — for readers interested in the details check out the full story at 21st Century Cures.
While it should not have taken three years to become law, it is better late than never and from our perspective the law shows that Congress can ultimately overcome partisan differences and take meaningful action to improve our nation’s health. As a new Congress and Administration takes charge in January we hope this same approach, one that puts patients first, will guide whatever changes are made to the Affordable Care Act.