The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) March 9 approved several bipartisan bills as part of its piecemeal approach to produce companion legislation to the House-passed 21st Century Cures Act (H.R. 6). This is the second hearing in what is expected to be a series of hearings marking up medical innovation legislation [see Washington Highlights, Feb. 12].
In his opening remarks, Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) highlighted his committee’s work on the fifty bipartisan proposals his committee will consider over the course of three hearings. While discussing the president’s budget proposal including mandatory funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Alexander suggested that the committee should establish an “innovations projects fund” in addition to the discretionary funding for NIH to “create surge in funding for high priority initiatives at NIH.”
Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) reiterated the chair’s comments on the importance of sustained funding for NIH, adding “the only way any of it [innovation package] gets signed into law is if we get a deal on strong, sustained, investment in biomedical research at NIH.”
Before approving Senator Bob Casey’s (D-Pa.) Advancing Hope Act of 2015 (S. 1878), Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) introduced an amendment, which was the text of her recently introduced National Biomedical Research Act (S. 2624) [see Washington Highlights, March 4].
While her amendment did not receive a vote, Senator Warren highlighted how her bill would increase funding for targeted biomedical research initiatives by creating a Biomedical Innovation Fund that would support NIH and the Food and Drug Administration. After withdrawing her amendment, she reiterated that “until we have a concrete deal with significant, guaranteed investments for medical research, health innovation legislation will not leave the floor of the Senate.”
AAMC March 9 endorsed Senator Warren’s National Biomedical Research Act, which every Democratic member of the HELP Committee is a cosponsor, because this bill would address the “central threat to the nation’s medical research enterprise: the lack of sustained and predictable funding.”
Along with several medical device and electronic health record bills, the committee also approved Senator Franken’s (D-Minn.) Adding Zika Virus to the FDA Priority Review Voucher Program Act (S. 2512), which would make Zika vaccines eligible for FDA priority reviews.
Chair Alexander also announced that the committee will hold its third and final markup on the biomedical research package on April 6.