There’s nothing ‘lame’ about passing Cures bill

There’s nothing ‘lame’ about passing Cures bill
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Members of Congress return to Washington this week with a rare opportunity to come together to put the divisiveness of the recent campaign behind them and pass legislation that will make a real difference in the life of every American. The 21st Century Cures Act is that opportunity.

Cures is about improving health, saving lives and, most importantly, offering hope to people affected by disease. Significant among its provisions is a one-time funding surge for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which would help the nation’s premier health research agency catch up from more than a decade of flat funding and ensure that the United States remains the world’s engine for medical innovation. 

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This is important. While NIH funding has remained flat for nearly a decade and a half, the opportunities before us to prevent, treat and cure our most vexing diseases have grown exponentially. As NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins has said, “Our nation has never witnessed a time of greater promise in biomedicine.” The confluence of genomics, nanotechnology and breathtakingly powerful computational and analytical tools has opened doors to advances that, until recently, were unimaginable. 

Our organizations are part of United for Medical Research (UMR), which recently highlighted examples of truly groundbreaking innovations that are on the cusp of saving lives and saving healthcare dollars. These include a bionic pancreas that provides fully automated, 24/7 blood sugar maintenance for people with type 1 diabetes; a low-cost, minimally invasive test that can identify cancer before it’s visible; a bio-artificial kidney that can alleviate the need for dialysis in people with renal failure; cancer-illuminating goggles that enable surgeons to see and remove all traces of cancer; and a new approach for developing a potential treatment for Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Not one of these amazing things would be where it is today without NIH research funding. 

Unfortunately, demand for NIH funding far outstrips supply. For every single research proposal funded by the NIH, there are more than four others that go unfunded. While it may be impossible to measure the potential cures lost when worthy research proposals go unfunded, there is no doubt that funding additional research focused on preventing, treating and curing our most chronic and costly diseases would have a significant impact on the U.S. economy. 

Each year the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services spends around $35 billion to care for people with end-stage renal failure — an amount greater than the entire NIH budget. Nearly 1 in every 5 Medicare dollars is spent on individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States and the only cause of death among the top 10 that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed. And it is estimated that a 1 percent reduction in death from cancer or heart disease would be worth nearly $500 billion to the economy.

The 21st Century Cures Act passed by an overwhelming and bipartisan majority of the House in 2015. Bipartisan leaders in the Senate spent much of this year fine-tuning their version of the legislation. Now is the time to act. 

It might just be that passing legislation intended to offer hope is exactly what America needs right now. There could be no better legacy for the 114th Congress.  

Marc. N. Casper is president and chief executive officer of Thermo Fisher Scientific; Mary Sue Coleman is the president of the Association of American Universities; and Chris Hansen is the president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. The entities they lead are members of United for Medical Research, a coalition of research institutions, patient and health advocates, and private industry united in support of robust funding for the National Institutes of Health.