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Senate HELP Committee Approves Last of 21st Century Cures Companion Bills, but NIH Funding Remains an Issue

April 6, 2016
by Rajiv Leventhal
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The U.S. Senate Committee for Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee approved the last of 19 bipartisan pieces of legislation that will become the Senate companion to the 21st Century Cures Act on Wednesday, April 6, meaning full Senate consideration of legislation could be soon on the way.

Indeed, Senate HELP Chair Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said he is working to soon put the committee’s bipartisan proposals—along with a bipartisan agreement on National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding—into Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) hands, making possible full Senate consideration of legislation to help “virtually every American.” Finding a way to pay for new mandatory funding for medical research at NIH, which Democrats in the Senate support, has been an obstacle.

Alexander further said, “Because our Innovation—or ‘Cures’—legislation will affect virtually every American, it will be the most important new law enacted this year. The legislation would create a breakthrough path for new medical devices like the breakthrough drug path approved in 2012 that has already attracted 384 applications and led to 39 approvals. It would give the FDA new authority to attract talented researchers, and reduce the administrative burden on NIH and researchers. It would target rare diseases, including diseases resistant to antibiotics. It would allow NIH to require researchers who use NIH funds to share their data. It would encourage interoperability of electronic medical records, reduction in excessive physician paperwork, clarify each patient’s right to own their own medical record, and discourage information blocking.”

Alexander said that his goal is to present this companion legislation to McConnell along with a bipartisan "NIH Innovation Fund," which would provide a surge of one-time funding for targeted NIH priorities, including the president's Precision Medicine Initiative, the vice president’s National Cancer Moonshot Initiative Young Investigator Corps, Big Biothink Awards and the BRAIN Initiative. He added, “With its 21st Century Cures Act passed last year, the House voted 344 to 77 to provide $8.8 billion in paid-for mandatory funding to support such NIH priorities. We continue to work to find an amount that the House will agree to, the Senate will pass and the president will sign.”

The following bills were passed by the committee on April 6 with bipartisan support:

  • Sens. Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Murray (D-Wash.) – (S. 2700) FDA and NIH Workforce Authorities Modernization Act
  • Sens. Hatch (R-Utah) and Bennet (D-Colo.) – (S. 185) Promise for Antibiotics and Therapeutics for Health Act
  • Sens. Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Murray (D-Wash.) – (S. 2713) Advancing Precision Medicine Act of 2016
  • Sens. Collins (R-Maine), Warren (D-Mass.), Kirk (R-Ill.), Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Alexander (R-Tenn.) & Murray (D-Wash.) – (S. 2745) Advancing NIH Strategic Planning and Representation in Medical Research Act
  • Sens. Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) – (S. 2742) Promoting Biomedical Research and Public Health for Patients Act:

Alexander added, “The House has done its work. The president has proposed his initiatives. I am hopeful we can take this to the Senate floor soon and ensure the president’s Precision Medicine and cancer ‘moonshot’ initiatives and ideas in the ‘Cures’ bill can become reality this year.”



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