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Last July, the Colon Cancer Alliance applauded members of the House of Representatives for putting patient’s lives ahead of their political differences as the House overwhelming passed the 21st Century Cures Act by a 344 to 77 margin. This landmark legislation includes $9 billion in funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to support cutting-edge biomedical research; it modernizes and streamlines the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval process for new treatments; and it removes the barriers that limited use of nationwide health data to help researchers and doctors improve health outcomes.

The House bill then went to the Senate. We assumed, given the fact this legislation literally has the potential to save lives, that the Senate would make it a top priority; instead last year the Senate essentially did nothing. Now this year Senator Alexander from Tennessee, Chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee (HELP) decided not to take up the House bill and instead consider a series of twenty different Senate bills that contain elements of the House version. 

The good news is the HELP Committee has finally taken action and passed five bills, which include:

  • A bill to make sure the NIH and FDA can hire and retain the talent they need
  • Legislation to shorten the time to develop treatments for “superbugs”
  • A bill supporting implementation of the Precision Medicine Initiative
  • Legislation designed to increase diversity in research
  • A bill to have scientists spend less time on administration and more on research

The bad news is as of today not one of these bills is headed to the Senate floor for a vote. Senators are locked in partisan squabble over paying for NIH research funding. Democrats say they will block the bills if they don’t include funding for NIH. In a positive tone, Senator Alexander, the Republican Committee Chairman of the HELP Committee, indicated he was open to mandatory funding if it targeted priorities such as the Moonshot and Precision Medicine Initiative. Unfortunately other Republicans, including Senator Burr from North Carolina, a member of the Committee, is opposed to mandatory funding regardless of the priority.

So, in what can only be described as a cruel irony, the 21st Century Cures Act, perhaps the only thing President Obama and the House Republicans agree on, faces a stalemate in the Senate. It is appalling that in a time when we have the opportunity for dramatic breakthroughs in preventing and curing cancer, this vital legislation sits on a shelf due to partisan fighting. Our community must Speak Up and Speak Out! Click here to send an email to your two senators; or better yet give their office a call—let them know you support funding for NIH and it must be included in the Senate version of the 21st Century Cures Act!

Speak Up, Speak Out is an advocacy series where we bring you the information you need to know every third Tuesday of the month. Don’t forget, the Colon Cancer Alliance serves as a source of information about colon health. If you have questions or are in need of support, please contact our free Helpline at (877) 422-2030.


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