Frequently, I get letters from my constituents who either are struggling with or have a loved one fighting a disease or illness for which we do not yet have a cure. The diseases are wide ranging — Alzheimer’s, cancer, diabetes, celiac disease, fibromyalgia, among many others — but their pleas are the same – they are asking for more support so that we can develop life-saving or life-changing treatments.
The data confirm what I’ve been seeing in my inbox. I recently learned that there are more than 10,000 known diseases, but only 500 treatments available. While on its face, that may seem an insurmountable statistic, I choose to see it as a great opportunity to unleash and direct the talent and ambition of American science. Perhaps I am optimistic because I have seen that talent first-hand in Ohio where we have outstanding universities, hospitals and a robust biomedical industry. It’s for these reasons that I supported the 21st Century Cures Act, which we advanced in the U.S. House last week.
The 21st Century Cures Act invests $4.8 billion in funding for the National Institutes of Health to aid in the development of life-saving cures. As a legislator who is also focused on reducing our debt and balancing our budget, I was pleased that we could offset this investment by reprioritizing existing dollars. In addition, we are spending those dollars strategically, with a focus on the high-risk, high-reward research that has the potential to transform the scientific field. The bill incentivizes researchers to focus on serious diseases that impact great numbers of Americans, including pediatric diseases; to precisely tailor cures to individuals, rather than one-size-fits-all treatments; and to expedite the development and review of drugs.
The bill would also modernize the Food and Drug Administration in order to eliminate bureaucracy and make it more effective and flexible in testing and approving treatments, while always putting patient safety first. It’s time to break down the silos and encourage more collaboration amongst doctors, researchers, and insurers so that we can get safe, effective, and affordable treatments to the patients who need them the most.
I am also pleased that with both parties and both chambers of Congress prioritizing medical research and innovation, we also were able to incorporate other shared priorities within this legislation, including critical funding to combat the opiate epidemic and needed reforms to our mental health system. In fact, it is my hope that the work we did on the 21st Century Cures Act can be a model for the future. I believe it is possible to do big things and solve big problems when we work together.
In future columns, I’ll talk more about what this legislation means for the fight against opiates and to improve our mental health care system, but if you have additional questions about the 21st Century Cures Act or any other legislation before Congress, please contact my Washington, D.C. office at (202) 225-2015, Hilliard office at (614) 771-4968, Lancaster office at (740) 654-2654, or Wilmington office at (937) 283-7049.
Steve Stivers is a member of Congress from Ohio’s 15th Congressional District and co-chairman of the Congressional Biomedical Research Caucus.