On Thursday, the U.S. House Energy and Commerce committee held a legislative hearing on the draft 21st Century Cures Act. This hearing was a forum for legislators to ask questions of Dr. Kathy Hudson, of the National Institutes of Health, and two Food and Drug Administration officials about provisions in the draft bill. Two lines of questions will be worth watching as the legislative process progresses:
- Several members of the committee remarked on the increases in funding for the NIH provided by this draft bill. The legislation would authorize a 4.5 percent increase in the NIH budget through fiscal 2018. In addition, an Innovation Fund would be established that would provide the NIH with an additional $2 billion each year through FY20. The draft bill states the Innovation Fund money would be divided among the Precision Medicine Initiative, young scientists and “Other.” Asked about the “Other” category, Hudson suggested that money could go toward investigator-initiated research.
- Rep. Fred Upton, R-Michigan, focused his questions on the tap. The tap is a budget gimmick that diverts about 2 percent of the NIH budget from the NIH to other research agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services such as the Agency for Healthcare and Research Quality. Eliminating the tap is a common partisan argument. A provision in the draft 21st Century Cures Act would eliminate the tap, but with negotiations continuing on the final language in the bill, changes to this section are expected.
Other topics discussed included how the NIH collects data from patients and improving data collection for children enrolled in clinical trials. On the other hand, there was very little discussion about the plight of young scientists or the capstone/emeritus award. The ASBMB is still developing its response to this draft version and will send it to the committee shortly.
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