SPRINTing to a cure

Congressional lawmakers acknowledge need to invest in U.S. research

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WASHINGTON, D.C.—U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., recentlyintroduced a bill in support of research for some of the most devastating andcostly illnesses. The Spending Reductions through Innovations in Therapies(SPRINT) Act, or Senate Bill 2069, details a plan to reduce federalexpenditures in Medicare and Medicaid by investing in viable therapies thatwould treat or potentially cure costly diseases. 
Through a public-private partnership where each federaldollar is matched with two dollars from the private sector, SPRINT will supportfunding for innovative research programs for chronic conditions. 
Medicare and Medicaid costs associated with chronicconditions are expected to increase tremendously with an aging population. Twoout of three older Americans are afflicted by multiple chronic conditions.According to Congress, these Americans account for 66 percent of the U.S.healthcare budget. SPRINT aims to solve both problems, suffering caused bychronic conditions and the federal deficit, through the investment in promisingnew therapies, drugs and technologies. 
SPRINT allocates $50 million of federal funds for investmentin biomedical research for the 2013 fiscal year and each year through 2017.Coupled with private funding, a total of $150 million could be invested inresearch programs in the coming year if SPRINT is enacted. This would allowresearch entities to invest in high-risk—but high-reward—programs that may leadto treatments and possible cures for conditions that are among the leadingcauses of death in the United States. 
The bill stipulates that funding will be granted to researchtargeting the leading causes of death in the United States that have thehighest cost associated with care and treatment, the greatest impairment ondaily life, an already high and increasing death rate and those conditions forwhich there are few therapies. Among the frontrunners for funding are cancer,diabetes and heart disease. However, none are more qualified to receive federalfunding than Alzheimer's disease.
Alzheimer's is precisely the type of condition that SPRINThopes to address. It is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States andis the only one of the top 10 conditions that cannot be prevented, slowed orcured. Alzheimer's tops the list of conditions that are the most devastating forpatients and the most crippling to the federal budget. According to theAlzheimer's Association, 5.1 million Americans aged 65 and older suffer fromthe disease—a number that is expected to nearly triple by 2050. Medicaid andMedicare costs associated with the disease are expected to rise by 400 percentand 600 percent, respectively, by 2050.  
"Alzheimer's alone costs the United States $183 billion ayear, a figure that is only going to explode exponentially as the baby boomersage, as we live longer and thus become more at risk for Alzheimer's. If nothingis done to slow or stop this disease, Alzheimer's will cost the United States$20 trillion over the next 40 years," says SPRINT supporter Sen. Susan Collins,R-Maine.
Though the goals of SPRINT are ambitious, they are aided bythe close involvement of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In orderto ensure that treatments are both safe and efficacious but also readilyavailable, SPRINT endeavors to streamline the FDA review process for all participatingresearch partners. Ongoing discussions between the FDA and research partnersare required. Per the funding contract, all research programs under SPRINT arerequired to agree to certain success markers that will be periodically reviewedby the FDA. The hope is that by involving the FDA every step of the way,treatments will be made widely available more quickly than by the traditionalFDA review process.
SPRINT has been referred to the Senate Health, Education,Labor and Pensions Committee for review.
"By acting now, we can save billions in future healthcarespending and long-term care costs. This bill saves lives and saves money," saysMikulski. "I think America and the world calls for innovation that makes surewe have new drugs, new biomedical products and new medical devices, and just inthe same way we need innovation in the production of new drugs and bio-productdevices, we need innovation in the legislative process. We need partnership,and we need it now."
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