Opinion: One Year Later — Why 21st Century Cures Still Matters

Help underway for diseases that impact virtually every family

Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., left, and Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., hold thank you signs made by Max Schill, who’s diagnosed with Noonan Syndrome, a rare genetic condition, after the U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of the 21st Century Cures Act on Capitol Hill in Washington in 2015. Upton and DeGette spearheaded the act. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call file photo)



One year ago this week, President Obama signed into law one of the most consequential bills passed by the 114th Congress: the landmark, bipartisan 21st Century Cures Act. He took the occasion of his final public bill-signing to praise the measure as a prime example of how important legislation should be passed: through consultation with stakeholders, deliberation, hearings featuring expert testimony, drafting and redrafting, and a spirit of collegiality and compromise.

When we started the process of crafting 21st Century Cures — or Cures — four years ago, we began with one goal in mind: helping patients and their families. We were both inspired to act after hearing from folks in the research community as well as patients, families and advocates who all told us about the need for modernization and more resources at the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration so that the United States could remain the worldwide leader in medical innovation and find the next generation of medical cures and clues.

We heard these stakeholders loud and clear. Cures provides the NIH and FDA with billions of dollars in much-needed resources so that our nation’s best and brightest can work on finding cures for diseases that impact virtually every family.

More specifically, Cures boosts four major innovative initiatives at the NIH: the Beau Biden Cancer Moonshot, which works to accelerate progress in cancer prevention and screening; the Precision Medicine Initiative, which is a long-term research endeavor aimed at understanding how a person’s genetics, environment and lifestyle can help determine the best approach to prevent or treat disease; the Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, which supports a more dynamic understanding of brain functions; and the Regenerative Medicine Innovation Project, which aims to accelerate the field of stem cell science.

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Cures also provides the FDA new authorities and established an “FDA Innovation Account” so officials can concentrate on a broad range of goals, including incorporating patients’ perspectives through patient-focused drug development, advancing new therapies to transform the way drugs are developed, modernizing drug-testing trial design and developing methodology to use real-world evidence in the process.

It focuses on reforming our nation’s mental health system, which is why we worked so hard to include the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Reform Act in the bill.

And most critically amid our country’s ongoing opioids crisis, Cures provided $1 billion for states to fight the epidemic at the local level through the end of 2018. We’re now focused on ensuring that this funding continues, and more.

When FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and NIH Director Francis Collins testified before the Subcommittee on Health earlier this month on the implementation of this law, they told us that Cures is already having a monumental impact at these vital government agencies. We are following through to ensure that in spite of proposed budget cuts, the programs supported through our bill, with widespread support in both chambers of Congress, can continue to do their vital work.

Cures was a truly bipartisan effort from start to finish. Today is a day to reflect on how far we have come, but also a reminder that we have much work left to do. Patients and their families are counting on us. We both look forward to continuing the work that Cures started.

Reps. Fred Upton, R-Mich., and Diana DeGette. D-Colo., are senior members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and co-authors of the 21st Century Cures Act.Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.