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OPINION: Upton and DeGette in the Denver Post: New Cures for the 21st Century

Jun 14, 2015

June 13, 2015

New Cures for the 21st Century

By Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Rep. Diana DeGette

Many have lamented the harsh and meaningless debates in Washington. As lawmakers and public servants ourselves, we all too often share in that frustration. That is why we are especially excited to have formed a bipartisan partnership to support innovation in medical research that helps deliver treatments and cures to the patients who need them.

As a Democrat from Colorado and a Republican from Michigan, we have our share of differences, but we recognize the need to help patients and their families. And we see great opportunities to improve the way Congress supports biomedical advances so that policy aligns with progress in the research lab and the doctor's office.

The latest research advances are truly promising for patients facing diagnoses such as leukemia, high cholesterol, and brain tumors. For many leukemia patients, recent trials suggest that using drugs to support the immune system may substantially improve chances for longer life and even remission. A new treatment to combat cholesterol may prove especially helpful to patients with heart disease who could not take conventional statins to lower cholesterol levels. And researchers have made progress in identifying different genetic variants of brain cancer, which will help doctors develop more specific treatment plans tailored to each patient's needs.

Each of these examples offers tremendous promise, but if we are to solve the biomedical challenges of our time, the process of finding new medical discoveries and then translating them into safe and effective treatments and cures for patients must be improved and modernized.

More than a year and a half ago, we teamed up to launch 21st Century Cures, an initiative to comprehensively improve the way we research and treat medical conditions, especially those for which there is no cure.

We reached out to researchers, patients, health safety experts, drug and medical device-makers, public health officials, venture capitalists, and anyone else who was concerned about improving medical research and delivering cures to patients. We hosted roundtables in Washington and across the country — including at National Jewish Hospital in Denver — to get expert advice from everywhere. Through extensive feedback, we heard a promising level of consensus around a number of ideas, and we spent much of this winter and spring drafting legislation to reflect this input.

We recently introduced the 21st Century Cures Act with strong, bipartisan support right out of the gate. This legislation promises to modernize and improve the entire process of finding medical discoveries in the lab and then turning them into treatments and cures that will change patients' lives.

We start by supporting America's premier research institutions to help produce future discoveries. After years of funding cuts, we have a bipartisan agreement to deliver $10 billion in important new resources for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) over the next five years. After years of stagnant funding and cuts, we will reinvigorate our flagship medical research agency so that our brightest minds can make the next great discoveries in medicine.

Among the serious problems we have consistently heard about has been the barriers that young scientists face in starting careers in basic medical research. Because funding was so hard to come by in recent years, new scientists faced daunting prospects for winning their first research grant. In fact, the average age for a scientist receiving his or her first grant rose to 42 years old — too lengthy a wait for those considering a career in medical research. We address this both through funding the NIH and specifically helping younger researchers begin their careers with promise.

And because of the way research and clinical trials are conducted, these resources will also benefit major research facilities like the University of Colorado Cancer Center and the University of Michigan Medical School's Office of Research. Doctors and research scientists at these facilities and across the country are taking part in the groundbreaking studies that produce the exciting discoveries that patients need.

We couple these new resources with comprehensive reforms to the way we perform clinical trials and develop new drugs and medical devices. This begins by more effectively including the patient perspective into every facet of discovering, developing and delivering treatments and cures, so that a conceptual breakthrough can be applied in practical ways that help patients.

We also modernize clinical trials so that research institutions can work together much more seamlessly than current rules allow. We have proposed medical registries to pool information and help researchers drill into the unique and sometimes subtle needs of specific patient groups. And we will unlock the potential of modern technologies by facilitating safe data sharing and using digital medicine.

All of these ideas have strong support in the medical and research community, but even so, putting them all together in a comprehensive package makes this a bold step, especially in today's Washington climate.

The time for 21st Century Cures is now. In the coming weeks, we hope to move this bill to a vote before the full House, and ultimately, we want to put it on the president's desk to be signed into law as soon as possible.

Thanks to strong ideas from the medical and research community and a bipartisan partnership that is all too rare, we can soon support medical research to make the life-changing discoveries every patient hopes for.

Read the piece online HERE.

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