A medical research funding bill that passed the U.S. House last week was:
1) A triumph for bipartisanship.
2) Another big-spending boondoggle.
3) A coup for drug companies but a risk for patients.
▪ Pick option one, for sure. The 21st Century Cures Act was the product of extensive groundwork by Republicans and Democrats. It cleared the House with a 344-77 vote — a startling show of agreement in today’s Congress.
If the Senate follows suit, the National Institutes of Health would receive almost $9 billion over five years to support scientific research on cures. The Food and Drug Administration would benefit from an additional $550 million.
▪ Cross out option two. Some conservative groups, most notably Heritage Action, urged members not to support a new, non-discretionary revenue stream for a government institution.
But federal research funding has been devastated by budget cuts over the last 12 years, causing projects to be put on hold and promising scientists to consider other career choices. A reliable funding increase is exactly what is needed.
As U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder of Kansas pointed out while calling upon colleagues to support the bill, money spent now on finding cures for diseases such as Alzheimer’s and cancer will save the nation millions of dollars in medical costs down the road.
▪ Option three is a tougher call. Some highly credible scientists contend the bill creates a fast track for unsafe drugs to reach the marketplace.
Critics say the bill creates lesser metrics for drug approval than is wise. They also object to including patient input as part of the process.
But patient advocacy groups think testimony from patients would strengthen the drug-approval process. And the authors of the bill wrote safeguards into the language after hearing hours of testimony. Among other measures, the bill provides for more robust post-market review once a drug is approved.
There will always be disputes among those who want scientific research to move faster and those who opt for caution. But we need to unharness the talents of U.S. scientists to make headway against the ravaging diseases of an aging population and to combat the threats of viral and bacterial illnesses.
The 21st Century Cures Act marks a significant step forward and a bright spot for the current Congress. The Senate should follow the House’s bipartisan example and speedily get the bill to President Barack Obama’s desk.