Congressman Greg Walden

Representing the 2nd District of Oregon

Op-Ed: 21st Century Cures Act will give hope to disease sufferers and their families

August 18, 2015

OP-ED COLUMN: “21st Century Cures Act will give hope to disease sufferers and their families”

by Rep. Greg Walden

Click here for video/audio of Walden talking about the importance of 21st Century Cures



Walden discusses the 21st Century Cures Act with patients and families impacted by deadly diseases in Medford (left) and Bend (right) this month

All of us have known someone affected by deadly diseases. In my own family, I’ve had loved ones suffer from ovarian and brain cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, stroke, and more. At roundtables in Bend and Medford this month, I met with patients and families impacted by ALS, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, lupus, and diabetes—diseases for which we have no known cure. According to Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, there are 10,000 known diseases in the world (7,000 of which are considered rare) but treatments for only 500 of them.

We agreed that we as a nation must do better. And a new bill moving through Congress—the 21st Century Cures Act—will give hope to disease sufferers and their families. 

In our increasingly connected world where innovation happens at lightning speed, health research is moving quickly. But government regulations for approval of new drugs and devices are not keeping pace with the science for some of these breakthrough cures. The time and cost associated with delivering a new treatment to patients – from research and discovery through clinical trials to approval –are at all-time highs. It takes upwards of 15 years to bring a new drug to the market, and the cost of developing new drugs has doubled since the early 1980s.

We can do better. With all of today’s advancements in science and technology, it’s clear there’s a lag between ideas, innovation, and actually developing cures that save lives. Our bill would boost medical research and streamline the approval process for new treatments to help accelerate the discovery, development, and delivery of cures. And it is fully paid for with fiscally responsible, meaningful reforms to other sources of spending.

We’ve seen this pioneering work take place in Oregon, which is why I made sure we collected input from some of Oregon’s finest minds, like Dr. Brian Druker, Director of the Knight Cancer Center at the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU), a true pioneer in cancer research. His work on medicines like Gleevec have turned a previously lethal cancer into a manageable disease and made their way through the FDA approval process in record time. We can continue to make progress like this nationwide.

One part of this is increased support for embracing technology to provide higher quality care to patients through the use of electronic health records, medical apps, and telehealth.  The 21st Century Cures Act will help provide regulatory certainty for those who develop potentially life-saving health apps and medical devices using technology. It also seeks to improve the use of telehealth, which is especially important in rural areas.   

As one researcher said during development of this bill: 200 years ago, we had the microscope. 100 years ago, we had the stethoscope. Now the next big breakthrough opportunity in medicine is the so-called “datascope,” the idea that researchers can remove all personally identifying information of a patient and plug in to database of medical information. This allows them to match genetic predispositions and biological changes to specific diseases such as cancer, and then use that data to find new cures and treatments.

At a hearing I chaired last year, a representative from Amazon testified about the potential cloud computing holds for health research. Scientists at one health care company discovered a large molecule that’s involved in the development of a particular type of cancer. To figure out how to combat it, the scientists needed to virtually screen 10 million compounds against it. Doing this in-house would have cost the company $40 million. Instead, Amazon built them a system in their cloud that allowed them to perform the equivalent of 39 years of science in less than nine hours—at a cost of $4,200.

Yes, we can harness technology to fight deadly diseases – including rare diseases which, in total affect 1 in 10 Americans. But we need to make sure that the federal government doesn’t needlessly stand in the way.  Streamlining the innovation pipeline at all levels ensures patients will have access to the best treatments as quickly and safely as possible. 

The 21st Century Cures Act passed the U.S. House on an overwhelmingly bipartisan basis in July. I hope that the U.S. Senate will quickly take action on it. With this initiative, we are on the cusp of something really big and bold.

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Greg Walden represents Oregon’s Second Congressional District, which covers 20 counties in southern, central, and eastern Oregon.