How Not to Cure Chronic Diseases: Have Congress Pass Costly Legislation That Fails to Address the Problem It’s Trying to Solve
Members of Congress can be astonishingly clueless about the shortcomings of federal agencies and how to correct them. At a press conference in February, U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland) and several bipartisan colleagues unveiled the Spending Reductions through Innovations in Therapies (SPRINT) Act, legislation intended to spur innovation in pharmaceutical research and development for chronic and costly health conditions such as Alzheimer’s Disease, cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. The speeches were heavy on promises but light on insight.
According to the press release, the bill will invest “in public-private partnerships to ensure scientists and researchers are able to develop new safe and effective drugs”; shrink product development timelines; increase the number of drugs in the development pipeline; and expedite “the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) review process so that drugs can be brought more quickly to market to the patients who need them.”
But the legislation fails to address what actually impedes the development of important new medicines. Either the legislators who oversee the FDA and control the nation’s coffers are woefully uninformed or they’re poseurs more concerned with posturing than public health. (Neither of those would be a first.)
There is currently plenty in the development pipeline. The federal government has already announced a boost in spending on research and development for Alzheimer’s Disease so that the Department of Health and Human Services’s spending in the next fiscal year (FY 2013) alone would exceed $500 million. Moreover, drug companies currently spend more than $65 billion on pharmaceutical R&D, and they know better than anyone that the big payoffs will be for treatments for the kinds of prevalent chronic diseases targeted by the legislation.
For example, more than a hundred drugs are currently in development for Alzheimer’s Disease, dementias, and other cognition disorders, and almost 900 medicines are being tested for cancer. The treatments involve drastically different approaches, including vaccines, human gene therapy, and orally administered and injectable medicines.