21st Century Cures

Aug 1, 2014 Issues: Health Care

Two hundred years ago, doctors knew little about how the human body actually worked. Much of the practice was still steeped in myth and many “cures” often did more harm than good. Bloodletting was a common practice well into the 19th Century.

We’ve come a long way in the last century and a half and much of the progress in medicine is thanks to American science and ingenuity. Each day tens of thousands of scientists, researchers and doctors work together to find real cures and therapies that heal disease and relieve suffering. In the last twenty years, 16 of the Nobel Prizes for medicine have been won or shared by an American.

While we have come a long way, there is still much that modern medicine doesn’t know. There are many diseases that remain a mystery. Forty years ago, President Nixon declared a War on Cancer, and while there have been great strides in treatment, there is still no single cure. The human body is vastly complex and we gain understanding only through painstaking trial and error. The road to cures is rarely easy or straightforward.

Because government plays a role in both funding research and reviewing medical advancements, Congress needs to make sure that public money is being spent in a way that moves us from discovery, on to development, and finally to delivery of cures. We want to make sure that the billions of dollars invested annually is not just spinning wheels and smoke.

That’s why the Energy and Commerce Committee started the 21st Century Cures initiative. This effort kicked off in May with a roundtable discussion that brought together some of the most important people in medical research field including the Director of the NIH, the directors of the Food and Drug Administration pharmaceutical and medical device review units, and heads of private and public institutions conducting research.

Since that time, we’ve held an additional two roundtable discussions. The first on digital health care, an emerging field that touches on almost every part of medicine. Advances in digital health care range from electronic medical records to smart phone apps. The other roundtable focused on personalized medicine. As we understand more about the differences between individuals, treatments can be tailored and designed to work differently based on genetic factors.

As chairman, I’ve convened six hearings of the Health Subcommittee focused on the 21st Century Cures initiative. In May, we reviewed the recommendations of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology on Drug Innovation.  Their recommendations focused on things like ensuring that private funds keep flowing to research and that clinical trials are properly designed.

In June, the subcommittee investigated the role of incentives in advancing treatments and cures. We need to ensure that there are good reasons to undertake the long and expensive process of developing new therapies.

In July, we held two hearings looking at how we can modernize clinical trials. Trials are essential to ensuring the safety and effectiveness of drugs, but they are also complex and time-consuming. The hearings looked at the issue from perspective of both researchers and patients.

The Health Subcommittee also held a joint hearing with the Communications and Technology Subcommittee to look at how the health field can take greater advantage of the great strides in computing and new devices. Finally, my subcommittee also held a hearing to look at what barriers may be in place that prevent communication between patients, physicians, and researchers.

The 21st Century Cures is not about throwing money at a problem. Certainly, funding is part of the discussion and we may discover that some funds need to be spent more effectively. However, we have to recognize that government resources are extremely limited right now. That’s why our efforts are focused on getting the right people in the room to work together so that we can make our limited resources go further.

From the beginning, 21st Century Cures has been bipartisan and I hope that no matter who controls the House, Senate, or Presidency we can keep working together to pave the way for new medical innovations. Hopefully, the next two decades will see just as many Americans being recognized for their life-saving developments.