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May 11 — Lawmakers behind the 21st Century Cures legislation want to move the bill through the Senate before the summer recess.
“The clock is ticking. We can't wait,” Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said May 11 in response to a question about a possible vote on the measure during the lame-duck session in November or December. The legislation is designed to accelerate the development of innovative drugs and medical devices.
Along with Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), Upton, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, led the bipartisan effort on the 21st Century Cures bill (H.R. 6), which the House overwhelmingly passed last July.
A companion measure has moved through the Senate health committee, but lawmakers still need to resolve whether to provide the National Institutes of Health mandatory funding, how much to provide and how to offset the costs.
“We’ve had some very positive discussions,” Upton said at a policy event on the treatment of rare diseases. “Hopefully you're going to see some real waves of progress here as it relates to the innovation fund in the next couple weeks. And if we're able to do that, my sense is that the majority leader, [Sen. Mitch] McConnell [R-Ky.], will make room and get it to the Senate floor for a conference.”
Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), who spoke at the same event, said the NIH funding is one of the biggest obstacles in moving the Cures bill forward. However, he said, there's bipartisan support for boosting medical research funding.
“Both parties recognize we need to make greater investments in NIH, even beyond what we did last year,” he said. He was referring to the $2 billion increase the NIH received under the current budget, which was the largest increase for the NIH in a dozen years.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, is leading the Cures companion effort with HELP ranking member Patty Murray (D-Wash.). Alexander has said that McConnell has agreed to hold a floor vote on the medical innovation package if the committee can resolve the NIH funding issue.
Alexander has said he can support an NIH innovation surge fund that supports specific projects, such as the cancer moonshot and precision medicine initiatives. HELP Democrats have said they won't support a 21st Century Cures companion bill without the mandatory funding stream.
In a Senate floor speech May 11, Alexander also said he would like to see a floor vote this summer.
“There's a very important biomedical research bill called the 21st Century Cures Act that I hope we can get to sometime before July,” he said.
The Senate is in session until May 27, when both chambers break for Memorial Day recess. There are then two short sessions in June and July before the long August recess and the national party conventions.
Casey, who also is a member of the HELP Committee, also said he wants to push up the vote on 21st Century Cures.
“Well I’m an optimist when it comes to these things,” he said. “I’m hoping there’s a window before lame duck. But certainly, I’d be pushing hard—and so would others—in lame duck if it didn’t happen before then.”
Upton added that the 21st Century Cures bill could be a vehicle to curb rising drug costs, an issue he said comes up frequently when talking to his constituents.
Because the bill is designed to shorten the time it takes to bring new medical products to market, Upton said, “It'll shorten the expense.”
“This is a way we can reduce the cost of drugs and find the cures to families that really need them,” he said.
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More information on the House version of the 21st Century Cures bill is at https://energycommerce.house.gov/cures.
More information on the rare diseases event is at http://thehill.com/video/events/279369-targeted-cures-a-policy-discussion-on-treating-patients-with-rare-diseases.
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