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Senate to Take Piecemeal Approach to 21st Century Cures Act

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The head of the Senate Health Committee announced late yesterday that the committee will not consider the sweeping House-backed biomedical research funding bill known as the 21st Century Cures Act, but instead will vote on separate narrower bills related to different aspects of the act such as electronic health records and treatments for rare diseases.

"Senators and staff on our committee have been working together throughout 2015 to produce a number of bipartisan pieces of legislation that are ready for the full committee to consider," Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said in a statement. "The House has completed its work on the 21st Century Cures Act. The president has announced his support for a precision medicine initiative and a cancer 'moonshot.' It is urgent that the Senate finish its work and turn into law these ideas that will help virtually every American."

In July, the US House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted in favor of the 21st Century Cures Act, which would increase National Institutes of Health funding by $10 billion over five years beginning in fiscal 2016. It also called for the creation of a special fund for basic, translational, and clinical research at the NIH and changes to the US Food and Drug Administration approval process.

Despite support for the act on both sides of the aisle in the House, the Senate has opted to address the legislation's goals in seven bills at three committee meetings. The first will be held on Feb. 9 and is scheduled to include discussions of bills related to improving electronic health records, streamlining FDA approvals of medical devices, simplifying the approval process for targeted therapies for rare diseases, and promoting opportunities for new researchers within the NIH.

The second meeting will be held March 9 and take up legislation related to modernization of the FDA and NIH, as well as the Precision Medicine Initiative introduced by President Obama about a year ago. 

A third and final markup is planned for April 6.

"We commend Senator Alexander and the committee for all of their work to boost medical innovation, and look forward to further collaborating in the weeks ahead," Representatives Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), who helped shepherd the 21st Century Cures Act through the House, said in a joint statement. "The Senate announcement is just the latest positive milestone in the effort to give patients and their loved ones more hope. But we have much work left to do to make 21st Century Cures a reality."