By NICK FOLEY
WASHINGTON (February 2, 2012)—Research into Alzheimer's disease, diabetes and other chronic diseases would win a boost under a bill introduced Thursday by Sen. Barbara Mikulski.
The bill is designed to spark innovative research by allocating money to find cures for these ailments. Mikulski, D-Md., was joined at the Capitol Hill announcement by USAgainstAlzheimer's founder George Vradenburg, as well as the bill's co-sponsors: Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass.
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., are also co-sponsors, but did not attend the news conference.
The bill, titled Spending Reductions through Innovations in Therapies or SPRINT, targets the deadliest diseases, which also happen to be the costliest to taxpayers. Specifically, it would devote $50 million toward moving more drugs toward Food and Drug Administration review. It would also award contracts and grants to drug companies for promising Alzheimer's therapies.
Mikulski said the bill would shorten the time between initial drug discovery and FDA approval to speed these treatments to ailing patients, a goal that would require swift cooperation between drug companies and federal agencies, she said.
"We need partnership and we need it now," Mikulski said. "This is a new way where government ... lays the groundwork."
The bill also details a national Alzheimer's plan with the goal of treating all cases by 2025 or earlier.
"I would hope that we would beat that 2025 benchmark, and I'm sure we will," Mikulski said.
Several of the bill's co-sponsors emphasized the need to address soaring health care costs. According to Collins, annual Alzheimer's spending totals $183 billion, an amount she said could spike in the coming years without intervention.
"That is only going to explode exponentially as the Baby Boom generation ages," she said. "All of us have to be concerned about the unsustainable federal debt."
Blumenthal said finding a cure for these chronic illnesses has proved to be "the premier public health challenge of our time." However, he added that the bill's bipartisan backing gives it a favorable outlook.
"Neglecting this problem is not an option," Blumenthal said. "We are beginning with a strong bipartisan coalition."
FDA spokeswoman Karen Riley said the agency does not comment on proposed legislation, but added that the FDA would be willing to encourage companies to develop drugs that would save more lives.
"There's something we can do to encourage (them)," Riley said, "but the companies themselves do the drug discoveries and the drug development."