Reid notes wife's battle with cancer as Senate starts work on FDA bill

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Thursday mentioned his wife's recent battle with breast cancer as an example of why the Senate should approve legislation that would help the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approve lifesaving drugs more quickly.

"As most senators know, my wife has been ill with cancer. And she had 20 weeks of chemotherapy," Reid said on the Senate floor. "Every week, we were worried that that drug wouldn't be there on that Monday morning… when she got those treatments.

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"Fortunately for us, they were. But that isn't the way it is with everyone around the country. People who need these lifesaving medications have found those medicines are not available, and we have to do everything we can to stop that."

Reid's wife, Landra, is recovering from stage 2 breast cancer. Reid said last September that Landra was getting chemotherapy treatment in Washington.

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Reid's remarks were meant to launch Senate work on S. 3187, which would revise current rules that allow the FDA to charge user fees to companies that submit brand-name drugs and medical devices to the agency for approval. Those user fees help the FDA pay for staff that consider these applications, and are supported by the drug and device industry as a way to speed up the process.

Under the bipartisan Senate bill, the FDA would also be able to charge user fees for the review of generic and biosimilar drugs.

Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) have been working on the bill for several months with industry groups, as have a bipartisan group of House members. The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved a bipartisan bill by unanimous consent last week, and House passage of this similar bill could happen in the coming weeks.

Reid called on Republicans to allow the Senate to move ahead with the bill, and encouraged all members to offer amendments if they have problems with the bill, rather than hold it up.

"I hope we don't have to file cloture on a motion to proceed to this life-saving legislation," Reid said. "If we have vote on cloture on this thing Monday, then we can't get on this thing until Wednesday and start legislating. How foolish.

"If someone has a problem with this bill, don't stop us from going to it. Offer an amendment. If it's a worthy cause, we'll vote with him or her and get rid of what's in that legislation."