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New hope for our toughest diseases

What we need to do now is accelerate this research and speed up the development of new cures for those in desperate need.

{mosads}There is new legislation, introduced by Senator Kay Hagen (D-N.C.), to expedite development and access to life-saving medicines by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The Transforming and Regulatory Environment to Accelerate Access to Treatments (TREAT) Act will help unleash and accelerate the biotech promise of developing new cures.

This legislation will enable the FDA to speed up the review and approval process and encourage more investment and innovation to attack diseases that are serious or life-threatening. While not all the diseases mentioned above would be covered by this legislation, the legislation provides a much needed jump start on a new approach at the FDA.

America landed a man on the moon in less than a decade and yet it takes 10-15 years to take a new drug from discovery to treating a patient. Given the pace of scientific change, America is held back and patients are suffering because of the long time lags. Investors and private funders are reluctant to invest with the regulatory barriers placed in their way. 

According to James Greenwood, president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, “Sixty-one percent of venture capitalists now cite FDA regulatory challenges as having the highest impact on their investment decisions, and 40% expect to decrease their investment in the development of new therapies.” 

The approval process for many of these treatment efforts and drugs is simply unacceptably slow. The TREAT Act will speed it up and have a positive impact on these new breakthrough technologies.  Congress needs to pass it this year. 

Our company, Neuralstem, has seen encouraging signs of a treatment effect transplanting our neural stem cells in the spinal chord of ALS patients. Our trial has included 14 patients thus far. Others have implanted stem cells in the eyes and also seen encouraging early signs for treating various types of macular degeneration.

There are potentially important and specific changes championed by this legislation. Most notable among them is a new “standard” that the FDA may adopt to help speed along approval of new therapies for diseases like ALS. The FDA is encouraged to consider surrogate markers of efficacy; and to allow faster approval. For instance, if Neuralstem were to show that we can keep our patients’ breathing function strong enough to stay off of artificial breathing machines for a significant time, we might not have to wait until the patients actually die, to prove that they lived longer, to offer the therapy. 

If a company such as Neuralstem demonstrates the benefit of a treatment according to the new FDA standards proposed in the TREAT Act, the therapy can be offered sooner and it can begin benefitting patients sooner. In a disease like ALS, where on average patients die around 3 years from diagnosis, time is clearly of the essence.

The FDA simply must keep pace with the safe and effective development of new, innovative, scientific breakthroughs that can literally provide hope for those with life-threatening diseases. The old, bureaucratic ways simply won’t work in the 21st century. 

Garr is president and CEO of Neuralstem, a major biotechnology company doing stem cell research on some of America’s most devastating diseases.

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