U.S. House passes med­i­cal bill

The 21st Cen­tury Cures Act, her­alded by Diana DeGette, is now off to the Sen­ate.

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Mark K. Matthews

wash­ing­ton» A bill that would make sweep­ing changes to the med­i­cal re­search field passed the U.S. House on Wed­nes­day, get­ting U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette of Den­ver that much closer to se­cur­ing a win for her top leg­isla­tive pri­or­ity.

The 392-26 vote was a larger mar­gin than the 344-77 vote that backed a 2015 ver­sion of the bill, but came as some Sen­ate Democrats and pro­gres­sive groups raised con­cerns over whether the mea­sure does too much to help drug and med­i­calde­vice com­pa­nies.

Ev­ery mem­ber of Colorado’s U.S. House del­e­ga­tion, ex­cept for Rep. Ken Buck, R-Wind­sor, sup­ported the 21st Cen­tury Cures Act.

Back­ers of the bill said they were hope­ful they would send the mea­sure to Pres­i­dent Barack Obama — who wants to see it passed — be­fore Con­gress ends its cur­rent term.

“This is a wa­ter­shed mo­ment in this coun­try for bio-med­i­cal re­search,” said DeGette, who cham­pi­oned the bill with U.S. Rep. Fred Up­ton, R-Mich. “With this bill, we bring hope to mil­lions of pa­tients who suf­fer from can­cer, Alzheimer’s, di­a­betes and a host of other ail­ments.”

The next step is the Sen­ate, where lib­eral law­mak­ers such as Bernie San­ders, Dick Durbin and El­iz­a­beth War­ren have raised con­cerns about whether the bill would overly weaken stan­dards for the ap­proval of drugs and other therapies in an ef­fort to more quickly get them in the hands of pa­tients.

“This bill isn’t about do­ing what the Amer­i­can peo­ple want,” War­ren said. “This bill is about do­ing what drug com­pa­nies and (po­lit­i­cal) donors want.”

Buck said Wed­nes­day he op­posed the bill due to its cost. “It spends too much money. It’s that sim­ple,” he said.

Kaiser Health News this week re­ported that the $6.3 bil­lion mea­sure was one of the most heav­ily lob­bied pieces of leg­is­la­tion this Con­gress, with more than 1,400 lob­by­ists in­volved in try­ing to in­flu­ence the bill’s lan­guage, which runs roughly 1,000 pages.

In this 2016 elec­tion cy­cle, health pro­fes­sion­als and the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try were the two big­gest con­trib­u­tors to DeGette’s cam­paign – giv­ing a com­bined $275,180, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ter of Re­spon­sive Pol­i­tics, a non­par­ti­san watch­dog.

Michael Carome, of the con­sumer-rights group Pub­lic Cit­i­zen, said the cur­rent ver­sion would re­quire that the U.S. Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion de­velop a pro­gram that would make it eas­ier for phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies to get ap­proval to repur­pose old drugs to

treat new af­flic­tions — such as us­ing a drug for lung can­cer to treat breast can­cer, he said.

“That’s a trou­bling pro­vi­sion,” he said. “It fur­ther erodes the stan­dards of ap­prov­ing drugs.”

Still, Carome said leg­is­la­tors had re­moved two trou­bling items.

No longer will the bill help drug com­pa­nies ex­tend the ex­clu­siv­ity of some med­i­ca­tions to treat rare af­flic­tions — and in the process de­lay the roll­out of cheaper, generic drugs.

Also cut was a sec­tion that would have weak­ened the re­port­ing re­quire­ments of gifts that med­i­cal com­pa­nies give to doc­tors. Law­mak­ers such as U.S. Sen. Chuck Grass­ley, R-Iowa, had threat­ened to block the bill if that clause wasn’t re­moved.

U.S. Sen. Michael Ben­net did not say Wed­nes­day whether he planned to sup­port the bill, al­though the Colorado Demo­crat had been in­volved in ear­lier ef­forts on the Sen­ate side to fast-track new drugs to treat an­tibi­otic-re­sis­tant bac­te­ria.

“Michael is re­view­ing the bill and en­cour­aged by the ef­forts to ad­dress an­tibi­otic-re­sis­tant su­per­bugs, safely speed up the FDA ap­proval process to save lives, and pro­vide clar­ity for health care mo­bile app de­vel­op­ers,” said Lau­rie Cipri­ano, a Ben­net spokes­woman, in a state­ment.

What­ever Demo­cratic ef­fort ex­ists to stop the bill in the Sen­ate could be stymied by the White House, which strongly backed its pas­sage this week.

In ad­di­tion to the bill’s push to make it eas­ier for med­i­cal re­searchers to col­lab­o­rate, it also takes steps to ad­dress the opi­oid drug epi­demic and to jumps­tart a “moon­shot” ef­fort to cure can­cer — a ma­jor pri­or­ity for Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den.

The $1.8 bil­lion moon­shot plan “aims to ac­cel­er­ate re­search ef­forts and make new therapies avail­able to more pa­tients, while also im­prov­ing our abil­ity to pre­vent can­cer and de­tect it at an early stage,” ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials said in their anal­y­sis of the bill.

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