DeGette calls for ‘lean and mean’ health research agency to tackle diabetes

Greg Nash

Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), the chair of the Congressional Diabetes Caucus, pressed Congress to fully fund a new public-private health agency to tackle some of the country’s most intractable diseases.

“It will be lean and mean,” DeGette said on Thursday of the proposed Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H), speaking at The Hill’s Diabetes Technology event. 

“It will not have the same kinds of restraints that our normal research agencies have, and it will be tasked with finding cures for diseases like diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s — things that we just haven’t been able to get over the finish line,” she added. 

The House designated $3 billion for ARPA-H this summer, which was trimmed down to $2.4 billion in the Senate’s budget proposal, less than half of President Biden’s $6.5 billion request

Biden doubled down on his support for the agency’s creation in a proclamation marking National Diabetes Month last week.

“Modeled on the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, a Government program that led to the creation of the Internet, GPS, and countless other vital technologies — ARPA-H would accelerate our research on detecting, treating, and curing diseases like diabetes and Alzheimer’s,” Biden said. 

ARPA-H would work collaboratively with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and private enterprises to develop treatments and cures for diseases. 

“We need to continue to double down on our efforts both to find a cure for Type 1 diabetes and also for Type 2 diabetes to find the appropriate treatments and prevention,” DeGette told The Hill’s Steve Clemons at the event, sponsored by the Diabetes Leadership Council. 

In 2018, about 34.2 million Americans had diabetes, including nearly 1.6 million with Type 1 diabetes, which is usually diagnosed in children, teens and young adults. 

DeGette and Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) have said they will push to authorize ARPA-H through legislation building on the 21st Century Cures Act of 2016, a draft of which they released in June. 

The former chief deputy whip also expressed her support for a provision in Biden’s social spending package to cap out-of-pocket insulin payments at $35 per month, though she added it might not survive in the final version of the package. 

House leadership is aiming to vote on the bill Thursday, at which point it will head to the Senate, where additional changes are likely before a vote. 

“If we don’t pass it in the Build Back Better bill, you can expect to see our legislation,” DeGette said of the insulin payment cap. 

Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.), vice chair of the Congressional Diabetes Caucus, also called for insulin price reductions.

“We’re trying to get to a point where that price of controlling your diabetes is affordable,” he told The Hill’s Bob Cusack at Thursday’s event.

Kelly said his own diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes came as a surprise during a routine blood test, emphasizing the importance of detecting early warning signs for the disease.

“The main worry I think we all need to have are those who don’t know,” Kelly said. 

“This diabetes is a difficult and horrible disease, but it can be managed,” he added.

Tags ARPA-H Bob Cusack diabetes research Diana DeGette Fred Upton Insulin prices Joe Biden Mike Kelly

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