Senate OKs Upton-initiated cancer, health funding bill
Washington — Congress sent President Barack Obama bipartisan legislation Wednesday to bolster research on cancer and other diseases, expedite government reviews of pharmaceuticals and medical devices, as well as fight opioid abuse.
In a 94-5 vote, the Senate sent a $6.3 billion package to Obama, who is expected to sign it. The House last week overwhelmingly approved the legislation, which was initiated by U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph.
“After three years, our legislative work is finally complete. 21st Century Cures is ready for the president,” Upton said in a joint statement with his partner on the bill, Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colorado.
“With this innovation game-changer, a new day for medical research is on the horizon. Today’s vote is for patients and their loved ones. We all have more reason for hope.”
The measure plans $6.3 billion in the next 10 years, including $1.8 billion for a cancer research “moonshot” effort supported by Vice President Joe Biden, whose son Beau died of the disease.
“We are now one step closer to ending cancer as we know it, unlocking cures for diseases like Alzheimer’s, and helping people seeking treatment for opioid addiction finally get the help they need,” Obama said in a statement.
“The bipartisan passage of the 21st Century Cures Act is an example of the progress we can make when people from both parties work together to improve the health of our families, friends and neighbors.”
The package also envisions giving states $1 billion over two years to prevent and treat abuse of opioids and other addictive drugs like heroin, and it reshapes federal mental health programs. The legislation would commit to infuse the National Institutes of Health with $4.8 billion over 10 years, dependent on future Congresses appropriating the funds in future years.
The vote came as lawmakers raced toward adjourning Congress for the year by working on a spending bill that would boost anti-terror and disaster aid accounts. It would also grease the way for retired Gen. James Mattis to be President-elect Donald Trump’s secretary of defense.
The congressional approval of the 21st Century Cures act marks a major milestone for Upton, outgoing chairman of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee.
On the House floor last week, Upton mentioned the two Michigan girls who inspired him — sisters Brielle and Brooke Kennedy of Mattawan, who have a rare, genetic muscle-wasting condition called type II spinal muscular atrophy, for which there is no known cure or treatment.
“Patients aren’t interested in debating the time lines, the failure rates or that the size and the costs of conducting clinical trials are at all-time highs,” Upton said on the House floor.
“They just know that despite the promise of scientific breakthroughs, they can’t get the therapy that might save their life.”
The White House effusively praised the legislation, while saying a number of effective dates will be challenging to meet without additional funding at the Food and Drug Administration.
Critics wanted the legislation to include controls for drug pricing and worried that hastening the drug and device approval process could compromise patient safety.
The Associated Press contributed