In a rare bipartisan act of the current US House of Representatives, lawmakers are expected to pass a piece of legislation amounting to $6.3 billion that is designed to advance medical research, make new drugs more accessible, expand mental health treatment and fight opioid abuse.
Known as the 21st Century Cures Act, the bill will provide $4.8 billion to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for the next 10 years to support brain, cancer and precision innovations. It will also give the Food and Drug Administration $500 million for faster approval of new drugs and devices, Reuters reports.
Donald Trump, President-elect, has sworn to cut down on FDA “red tape,” though he has not commented specifically on 21st Century Cures. The US Senate is expected to vote on the bill next week, and it’s expected to pass, though probably with additional changes. It will then proceed to President Barack Obama for signing.
The bill also provides $1 billion over two years to programs for opioid abuse treatment and prevention, including improving prescription drug monitoring, health care provider training, and expanded access to opioid treatment programs.
Those against the bill, such as Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, have said that it contains too many incentives for the pharmaceutical industry, and will open the door for drug companies to push treatments that have little proof of working.
Warren and Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, also object to a provision in the bill that would let companies place payments to doctors under the umbrella of continuing medical education. Grassley co-authored the Sunshine Act that led to the creation of a database containing drug and device company payments to doctors.
This bill would add an additional exemption for doctors who receive indirect payments for speaking engagements.
Patients, however, have expressed support for the bill, saying it would bring patient voices closer to the drug approval process. Ellen Sigal, chair and founder of Friends of Cancer Research, says, “It fosters innovation and doesn’t lower safety standards.”