Cancer is something that has touched nearly every family, said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who lost his father to the disease.
“When you bring it down to a personal level I think it’s a lot easier to get people on the bandwagon and get them cheerleading and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to beat this, and we need to do it today instead of tomorrow,’” said Rep. Billy Long, R-Mo., whose daughter went through treatment last year for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
With that sentiment in mind, Democrats are hoping Republicans will join them in supporting Biden’s moonshot task force, including providing the money needed to fund the effort.
“It has to transcend the petty fiscal battles that we go through every year in the appropriations process," said breast cancer survivor Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., said and we have to make an American commitment to beating cancer once and for all.”
Rep. Donald M. Payne Jr., D-N.J., who succeeded his father in Congress after his death in 2012 from colorectal cancer, said Biden is the best person to champion the effort. “His enthusiasm and persistence once he gets a hold of something is second to none,” he said.
Biden’s moonshot effort aims to identify new ways to prevent, diagnose, and treat cancer by accelerating research efforts, enhancing access to data and facilitating collaboration among scientists, doctors, patients, biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies and philanthropies. The overarching goal of the moonshot is to spur a decade’s worth of progress in half that time.
“There’s been tremendous work done by so many organizations but the problem is that it’s scattered,” Wasserman Schultz said. “What the federal government does not always do well in very significant goals like this and taking on very significant problems is that we have a lot of silos functioning separately all going at the same effort or similar efforts making incremental progress – even if it’s significant incremental progress. Imagine what we can do if we pool all the resources and all the focuses together in one coordinated effort.”
Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., saw cancer take his mother when he was a child and his father just a few years ago, but he remains hopeful that progress will eventually lead to a cure.
“Anyone who is afflicted with cancer wants us to address an all out battle against this horrible disease,” he said. “Fortunately we have seen tremendous progress, for example, with breast cancer. Sadly there are certain cancers that have had less of a survival rate … pancreatic cancer and things like that.”
Although the moonshot effort is still in the early stages, Biden has begun reaching out to some members of Congress. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said she and Biden are “talking about talking.” She’s excited about the effort but has a lot of questions.
“There are a lot of pieces,” she said. “There’s got to be a good relationship between the private sector, the docs if you will, and members and the administration about what it’s going to be. What are we looking to try to accomplish? And what kind of money are we talking about? I don’t know. I think that’s why this is in the listening stages.”
DeLauro is ranking member of the Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee that has jurisdiction over funding for NIH. She helped secure an additional $619 million for NIH in the omnibus bill last year, $195 million of which the administration is using for cancer-related activities to help launch the moonshot.
In fiscal 2017, the administration has requested $755 million in mandatory funding for new cancer-related research activities at NIH and the Food and Drug Administration. DeLauro and Fleishmann, who serves on the subcommittee, would prefer the funding remain on the discretionary side of the budget but said there’s bipartisan support for providing additional funding this year for cancer research.
“We have a lot of money in the budget if we prioritize,” McCarthy said, but noted that may not be the solution.
“We should drill down, look at where’s the best synergy of where we can be of assistance,” McCarthy added. “Sometimes that there’s movement that I’ve found out there that if we knock down a few barriers, things can happen faster, tests can go on, different abilities to get something done sooner.”
McCarthy said he expected to discuss the moonshot effort with the vice president during a meeting they held last week on a separate issue. The majority leader said he sees Biden’s task force a compliment to the 21st Century Cures Act the House passed last July with overwhelming support from both parties.
“A lot of people talk about wanting to do something; Fred pushed the envelope and forced something to get done,” McCarthy said of Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich.
The 21st Century Cures Act would provide dedicated funding to NIH and FDA, encourages researchers to use patient-based data in the development of treatments, and creates economic incentives for development of new drugs. The bill targeted cancer and rare diseases such as valley fever, which is prevalent in McCarthy’s district.
Biden can use his effort to promote 21st Century Cures and convince the Senate to pass it, Long said. “He’s always been kind of a natural born salesman, and I think that’s what you’ve got to do,” he said. “You’ve got to sell the Congress on it. You’ve got to sell the American public on it.”
Rep. Leonard Lance, R-N.J., said he hopes the moonshot effort will help resolve a debate over how long the period of exclusivity should be for new medicines. Lance has a bill, which he unsuccessfully tried to get included in 21st Century Cures to “hasten the process to bring to market medicines for rare diseases, all within the confines of the highest degree of safety.”
Having lots his mother to cancer when he was 12, Lance has made cancer prevention and awareness one of his top priority in Congress and has partnered with Democrats on many bills.
“These issues, not only are they bipartisan,” he said, “they are really nonpartisan.”
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