New hope for patients: Why the 21st Century Cures Act deserves our support

Over a year ago, Congressman Fred Upton, R-Mich., and Congresswoman Diana DeGette, D-Colo., came together to begin work on their 21st Century Cures Initiative.  As the rest of the political world was fixated on the November elections, Reps. Upton and DeGette shoved partisanship aside to work together for the betterment of America’s patients.

Led by Reps. Upton and DeGette, the House Energy & Commerce Committee has since solicited input from researchers, universities, innovators, investors and patients.  The message was clear:  America is the best place to innovate in the world, and we must take urgent action to maintain and enhance our nation’s role as the global leader in research and development activities.

The medical innovation sector is a prime driver of job creation and economic growth in many areas across the country.

More importantly, that sector delivers life-improving and life-saving benefits through more timely access to groundbreaking cures and medical treatments.  In order to continue leading the world in medical innovation, we must modernize and streamline our regulatory system to reduce the cost of developing new therapies, harness the benefits of evolving and advancing science and provide patients access to safe and effective, new ground-breaking drugs sooner.

The pace of technological advancement in the discovery and development of medical therapies is astonishing.  But, in order to fully realize the benefits of new therapies, we must modernize our antiquated regulatory system.  How we regulated medicines and medical technologies in the 1960’s was likely scientifically appropriate at the time.  However, in the 21st century, that outdated approach to evaluating new medical products needlessly adds time, uncertainty and cost to the development process and sadly delays patient access to critical new treatments.

Over ten years ago, National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding helped support our efforts to map the human genome.  Since then, genomic-based medicine has contributed to dramatic improvements in our ability to fight and cure disease.  The NIH plays a critical role in developing an understanding of basic science that can be utilized by researchers and innovators to develop the next generation of cures and therapies.

The 21st Century Cures Act provides critical new resources to the NIH in a fiscally responsible manner by instituting common sense reforms to our entitlement programs.  As our further understanding of science and medicine continues to change the equation of treating disease, the 21st Century Cures Act modernizes our regulatory system so progress is not hamstrung by outdated laws and requirements.

There is much cynicism in our country about the political system.  People see real problems that should be addressed but are often bogged down by partisan gamesmanship.  The 21st Century Cures Act, H.R. 6, should be a faith restoring example that the two parties can come together to accomplish something remarkable to improve the quality of life for American patients.

Republican Haley Barbour served as governor of Mississippi from 2004-12.