Wither "Cures?"

  • by: Peter Pitts |
  • 04/17/2016
When a man says he approves of something in principle, it means he hasn't the slightest intention of putting it into practice. -- Otto von Bismarck

Is the cure worse than the disease?

A thoughtful and comprehensive overview in BioCentury (by one of our favorite industry cognoscenti, Steve Usdin), Can “Cures” be Cured, presents a blunt appraisal for either measured optimism or realpolitk pessimism.

Some tantalizing snippets:

After almost two years of effort, it is still not clear whether a path can be cleared to put a 21st Century Cures bill on President Obama’s desk, or what measures would be included if and when legislation is turned into law.

It is certain that anything that could get through Congress would not come close to matching promises made by the legislation’s sponsors to radically transform the way medicines are discovered and to dramatically accelerate the creation of cures.

According to Usdin, Cures legislation, would be a disappointment to anyone hoping Congress will attempt to squeeze more science from the tens of billions taxpayers provide to NIH, or for fundamental changes in the kinds of science NIH supports and conducts.

The Cures bills do not address concerns about the effectiveness of NIH’s translational research, perceptions that NIH’s peer-review process rewards consensus science rather than innovation, or the inefficiency of allowing hundreds of millions of dollars to be siphoned off research grants for “indirect” costs such as administrative support and facilities.

The White House Statement of Administration Policy released in July noted the “new responsibilities for FDA outlined in H.R. 6 exceed the resources provided in the bill and the President’s FY 2016 Budget and as such, FDA will be unable to fully implement the programs established in the bill, while maintaining its current performance levels.”

FDA also thinks H.R. 6 would unleash a flood of applications for qualification of biomarkers and other drug development tools, and it estimates that reviewing these applications would cost $940 million over five years.

In the absence of a substantial increase in FDA funding, the administration, congressional Democrats and regulated industries are likely to push to have many of the FDA provisions stripped from the 21st Century Cures Act.

As the window for passing a bill in the Senate and negotiating a final version narrows, pharmaceutical industry lobbyists who worked hard to shape H.R. 6 and Senate Cures legislation are now sitting on the sidelines.

Pharma companies are unwilling to push for legislation they feel does little to benefit their companies, and they are cautious about supporting a political process that could exacerbate battles over pricing. At the same time, the industry doesn’t want to be seen throwing sand in the gears. Public opposition to Cures legislation would antagonize powerful members of Congress, along with influential patient advocates who have invested immense amounts of time in the Cures process.

Industry and FDA will call for a “clean” reauthorization of PDUFA, but Congress is unlikely to resist the temptation to attach legislation to PDUFA VI. If Cures legislation is enacted this year, any FDA elements that were considered but didn’t make the final cut will be in play as a PDUFA companion bill is drafted.

If Cures doesn’t pass, there will be strong political pressure to include the measures that would have made it into a final bill, along with some of those that were discarded, plus mandatory funding for NIH and FDA.

Ladies and Gentlemen, place your bets.

Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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