Full House and Senate should reauthorize the C.W. Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program
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It is September of a presidential election year, with a divided government and a deeply polarized electorate. Many congressional watchers would tell you that absolutely nothing could pass in this environment. Earlier this month, however, in defiance of the naysayers and in the spirit of all too rare bipartisanship, the House Energy and Commerce Committee overwhelmingly voted to reauthorize the C.W. Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program (“the Program”).

We must extend this demonstration of bipartisanship and willingness to work together to save American lives to the full House and the Senate and ensure that the Program is reauthorized before it expires at the end of September.

For 30 years, Congress has authorized and re-authorized the Program, which provides access to life-saving bone marrow, peripheral blood stem cell and cord blood transplants for patients living with one of the more than 70 blood cancers or blood disorders for which transplant is the only curative option.

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The Program was first established through a partnership with the Navy in 1986, transferred to the NIH for oversight the following year, then authorized by Congress in 1994 and has been reauthorized in 1998, 2005, 2010, and 2015.

During those 30 years, the National Marrow Donor Program/Be The Match (“NMDP”) has facilitated more than 100,000 lifesaving and life-extending transplants.

While the Program enjoys broad bipartisan and bicameral support, as it has during every other reauthorization, it is still in jeopardy — which is why we strongly urge Congress to act swiftly to protect the Program and the patients who rely on it.

Because of its unassailable mission, because of its great successes over three decades, and because the Program is relied upon by more patients than ever before, reauthorization of the national registry remains non-controversial.

Reauthorization was critical before the pandemic, but now because of the wild unpredictability of COVID-19, and its downstream impacts that create life-threatening risk to bone marrow transplant patients, it is even more urgent that Congress reauthorize the Program before adjourning for the election.

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Thanks in large part to the national program status afforded to NMDP under the authorizing statue, we were:

  • Granted a waiver in March from the director of the Centers for Disease Control to the European Travel Ban issued by the president. The waiver was issued in “the national interest” to allow international bone marrow couriers to travel to and from the United States to deliver cellular products from abroad to U.S. patients.
  • Designated with an Essential Critical Infrastructure classification by the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) for the Program to include “Donors of blood, bone marrow, blood stem cell, or plasma, and the workers of the organizations that operate and manage related activities.”
  • Authorized by a subcontract with the Department of Health and Human Services to use private aircraft donated to the government, renewed on a monthly basis, to deliver life-saving cells to patients when commercial flights were not available.
  • Able to access support from U.S. embassies and consulates to liaison with host governments to facilitate timely travel authorizations for individual donor and courier travel and to coordinate private and/or humanitarian flights in and out of countries that have closed their borders to international travel.
  • Granted clearance from U.S. Customs and Border Protection that ensures bone marrow and blood stem cells coming from Canada to American patients will have uninterrupted transport into the country.

These critical victories during the pandemic share two common, and extraordinarily important, threads. First, we would not have been able to secure these victories without NMDP’s national program status. And, second, patients in the U.S. would have died had these things not happened.

While we have no way to predict exactly what the next emergencies will look like, we nevertheless know with certainty that they will happen. Based upon the unfathomable experience of the last six months, we know that the lynch pin to the solution will be our national program status.

This is exactly why reauthorization now is so critical.

No lapse in the Program means no lapse in our national program status. And that means no lapse in our ability to move mountains in our efforts to leave no patient without the transplant that they so desperately need.

The members of the House Energy & Commerce Committee proved that even in these most trying political times, Congress can come together and work across the aisle to save the lives of Americans in need. We hope the full House and the Senate will follow suit and act quickly to reauthorize the Program.

Brian Lindberg is the chief legal officer and chief policy officer for the National Marrow Donor Program/Be The Match.