By John A. Boehner
July 9, 2015
Hardly anyone amongst us has been spared the heartache of seeing someone battle for their life against an incurable disease. In those moments, we invariably ask ourselves: “What more can we do?” Over the last year, members of the House Energy & Commerce Committee have put that question to doctors, patients, experts, and medical innovators across the country, and their input has formed the foundation of a bipartisan initiative called “21st Century Cures.”
True to its name, 21st Century Cures is a multi-faceted initiative designed to accelerate the entire “3D” lifecycle of cures—from discovery to development to delivery. It reflects the feedback that members of both parties, led by Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Rep. Diana Degette (D-CO), have received in eight hearings and more than two dozen roundtables and listening sessions across the country. And, most importantly, it represents a new approach that puts the patient perspective at the fore—drawing from their experience to inform and improve new treatments at every point in the process.
That process starts with critical investments in medical research. The legislation reauthorizes and increases resources for the National Institutes of Health, the preeminent agency for medical research that supports more than 300,000 researchers at more than 3,000 universities and research institutions. Those resources will allow NIH to continue its progress toward finding cures and treatments for diseases like cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and much more. The bill also addresses the economic challenges associated with developing treatments by enhancing researchers’ ability to repurpose drugs and providing economic incentives to develop new therapies.
The initiative fully pays for these new resources with savings in other areas, including permanent entitlement reforms that will save taxpayers an additional $500 million over the next 10 years, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. Separate analysis by the Energy & Commerce Committee finds it will save billions after that also. It also gives Congress the ability to review these programs through the annual appropriations process and direct resources to where they’re needed most. This initiative makes every taxpayer dollar count—but is about much more than just that too.
Medical technology has undergone a vast transformation in recent decades, but it is being throttled by an outdated bureaucracy that hasn’t kept pace. Today, it takes 15 years for a new drug to move from the lab to the local pharmacy. The 21st Century Cures initiative aims to shorten that time, in part, by modernizing clinical trials. It does so by reducing the administrative burden of setting up new trials and making it easier to recruit the right candidates utilizing patient-generated medical registries. Researchers are able to tailor trials to specific patient groups and zero in on the treatments that are working for those with certain characteristics, and remove those who are not responding to treatment. And, it relies on patient feedback throughout the process so researchers can better gauge the impact of new treatments and improve their development.
It’s critical to ensure researchers have access to the vast amount of available medical data. That’s why the initiative breaks down barriers and allows for greater collaboration amongst researchers, facilitating more data-sharing and information-pooling to expedite the development of new drugs and devices. It also streamlines burdensome regulations that delay the approval of new treatments and technologies in order to help keep America on the cutting edge of innovation.
Maintaining our edge in biomedical research and development doesn’t just save lives, it strengthens our economy and boosts U.S. competitiveness around the world. Today, four million Americans are employed in the biopharmaceutical industry and two million are working in the medical device field. The House recently passed legislation to protect thousands of jobs that are being threatened by a tax on medical devices in the president’s health care law. The 21st Century Cures initiative goes a step further by making it easier to create more jobs and keep our most talented researchers working toward the next frontier of biomedicine on our shores.
Here in the House, we are committed to putting the American people’s priorities first, and there is no higher priority—no greater opportunity—than to help more Americans live longer, healthier lives. This process has shown how much we can achieve when we work together, and I look forward to seeing the House pass this critical, bipartisan initiative, and others like it, that will provide the real solutions Americans expect from their elected leaders.