Alzheimer’s prize competitions, greater FDA transparency in major research Bill

Published 7:00 am Thursday, December 8, 2016

The House of Representatives has passed the “21st Century Cures Act” – a long-awaited bipartisan package of legislative items that promises to spur innovative medical research and remove barriers to groundbreaking new patient treatments. The Senate is expected to consider the bill in the coming days, and I anticipate it will draw similarly strong support.

A ‘EUREKA’ Moment

Several of my legislative priorities were included in the final version of “21st Century Cures.” One of these priorities is the development of prize competitions for research breakthroughs. Last year, I authored the “EUREKA Act” as a way to help initiate prize competitions in the fight against Alzheimer’s. The bill earned the bipartisan endorsement of 62 lawmakers in the Senate. We all saw the potential for public-private partnerships to be a game-changer in Alzheimer’s research. The best minds should be put together to cure this devastating disease.

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The “21st Century Cures” bill has adopted my “EUREKA” approach with a section titled “EUREKA Prize Competitions.” Specifically, “21st Century Cures” would direct NIH to conduct prize competitions to address some of the world’s most complicated diseases, including Alzheimer’s.

These prizes would pay only for success and would complement current funding. This effort could go a long way toward ending Alzheimer’s disease by 2025 – a goal set forth in the “National Alzheimer’s Project Act” of 2011.

A Better FDA Approval Process

“Cures” also contains good news for patients. A section on “Patient-Focused Drug Development,” for example, would support greater transparency in the Food and Drug Administration’s drug approval process. It would survey how data on patient experience is considered when approving a drug and share those findings with stakeholders.

Another section for a “National Pediatric Research Network” would improve pediatric care through the sharing of medical information. The creation of this network could broaden the resources available to children with rare diseases, giving them access to important trials and treatments. Both sections were inspired by legislation I have authored during the past two years.

Telehealth Initiatives Advance

We live in an age of unprecedented technology, which should be part of the solution for health problems and disparities. Mississippi has pioneered models for telehealth that promise to change the way we view patient monitoring and access to primary care, especially in remote areas. On November 29, the Senate passed the “ECHO Act,” which would use telehealth technology to bring specialty training to hometown doctors. These doctors could then help patients who might not receive such specialized treatment otherwise. Having sponsored several telehealth bills, such as the “CONNECT for Health Act,” I am pleased to see that these patient-focused policies are gaining steam.

Telehealth gets a boost in the “21st Century Cures Act,” and I hope we will soon add the bill to the long roster of bipartisan accomplishments during the 114th Congress, which already includes improvements to our highway system, water resources, and education.

By U.S. Senator Roger Wicker

About Julia Arenstam

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