Weekly Columns


Dec 21 2016

Cures Now. That’s the rallying cry activists used while visiting Capitol Hill, penning opinion pieces and advocating over social media in support of landmark legislation to fight costly diseases and opioid abuse. This bill, the 21st Century Cures Act, is now law.

The cures for some of the most confounding medical mysteries of modern time could potentially be unlocked by this new law. It authorizes a $6.3 billion surge that will fund research into cures for cancer, neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and mental illnesses that claim the lives of too many of our family members, friends and neighbors.

Here’s how the 21st Century Cures Act aims to accomplish that goal.

First, it will speed up the time it takes for advancements to get from the laboratory to those in need. As a medical professional, I saw firsthand how innovation saves lives. Unfortunately, bureaucracy is a roadblock to innovation. Today, medical discoveries take anywhere from six to 12 years to gain approval from the Food and Drug Administration. The 21st Century Cures Act will remove the red tape that keeps safe and effective drugs tied up in the regulatory process for far too long.

Along with getting treatments to those in need much quicker, the law includes a number of initiatives aimed at tackling the most devastating diseases. The law green lights the Vice President’s Cancer Moonshot, a task force to help find cures for cancer. It authorizes $1.8 billion over five years to accelerate research efforts, make new therapies available to patients and add new prevention and detection tools to our war chest. This new law also aims to help researchers find new ways to treat, cure and prevent brain disorders including Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease and traumatic brain injury.          

In keeping with the theme of focusing on diseases and conditions that have evaded a cure, the law gives us the tools to make an impact on our nation’s mental health care crisis. One in five adults in the country suffers from mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety, and most go untreated. The 21st Century Cures Act aims to deliver help to the nearly 60 percent of Americans struggling with these conditions. It will update block grant programs for states to help them meet the needs of those suffering from mental illness and ensure that the programs are effective by improving coordination between agencies, access to care and training of professionals who provide services to those in need. 

Similarly, our nation continues to struggle with a prescription opioid and heroin epidemic. While we passed a comprehensive bill to address this issue into law earlier this year, more work remains to be done. That’s why we included provisions to improve prescription drug monitoring programs, implement prevention techniques, train health care providers and expand access to opioid treatment programs.

Most, if not all of us, can identify at least one loved one we have lost to the diseases targeted by this law. These diseases have continued to elude a cure. The 21st Century Cures Act offers a great deal of promise to change that trend.