Today, the U.S. House Energy and Commerce committee voted unanimously in favor of the 21st Century Cures Act, formally known as H.R. 6. Work on this legislation began over a year ago with the goal of speeding discovery, development and delivery of therapies and cures to patients. Should H.R. 6 become law, it would make important changes to the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration and other federal agencies working on healthcare issues.
The 21st Century Cures Act has many positive aspects for scientists. The bill authorizes a 4.5 percent increase in NIH spending for the next three fiscal years. It’s important to remember that authorizations are not a guarantee of funding increases because the appropriators do not have to appropriate funds up to the authorized level. Nevertheless, a bipartisan vote for increases to the NIH budget that outpace inflation is a step in the right direction.
Other provisions in the bill would:
- Create an Innovation Fund, which would add $2 billion each year for the next five years to the NIH budget.
- Allow biomedical scientists to enter a loan-repayment program and be eligible for up to $50,000 to be paid each year toward their student loan debts.
- Compel the NIH to collect more data about the composition of the workforce
The ASBMB commented on drafts of the 21st Century Cures Act, and the Society appreciates that some troublesome language was removed. Nevertheless, the ASBMB does have some concerns about the bill. We do not support the inclusion of the Capstone award, which was originally discussed by the NIH as an emeritus award. We are also concerned about how the Innovation Fund will work, and language about increasing accountability at the NIH could add time between grant submission and award.
While not a perfect bill, the overall effects of the bill, should it become law, would be positive. The U.S. Senate is working on a companion bill to the 21st Century Cures Act, which is expected to be finished by the end of 2015.
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