Bradley Byrne: A bill that can save lives

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I met a young boy named Gabe Griffin a few years back at Battleship Park in Mobile. His family and friends had organized a cross country bike ride that started in Oregon and ended on Alabama’s Gulf Coast.

The goal of the ride was to raise awareness about Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a rare disease in young boys that causes your muscles to weaken rapidly. Despite suffering from Duchenne, Gabe was thrilled that day to be greeted by the University of South Alabama mascots, the Azalea Trail Maids, and local firefighters. I will never forget the smile on Gabe’s face on that special day.

Gabe was on my mind last week as I cast my vote in favor of the 21st Century Cures Act. This bill brings health research and the drug approval process into the 21st Century in order to boost research into diseases, like Duchenne, that impact far too many families.

The bill provides the National Institutes of Health with over $4 billion in new funding. Over $1 billion will go toward the new Precision Medicine Initiative to drive research into diseases, over $1 billion will go toward cancer research, and over $1 billion will go toward the BRAIN initiative to improve understanding of diseases, like Alzheimer’s.

The 21st Century Cures Act also allows for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to expedite the approval process for breakthrough medical treatments, drugs, and devices. These reforms help cut through the red tape and bureaucracy that has limited the potential for important medical breakthroughs.

The bill encourages innovation and research through a number of new strategies. For example, 21st Century Cures authorizes innovation prize competitions to advance biomedical science for diseases that are serious and represent a significant burden. The bill also creates a new “Next Generation of Researchers Initiative” to encourage younger students to enter the field of medical research.

Another important reform is that 21st Century Cures empowers patients to take part in research and clinical trials. This change allows patients to voluntarily provide hospitals and research institutions with authorization to use their personal health data for research purposes. The bill also requires the FDA to incorporate patient input and experiences into their decision-making process.

All of these reforms ensure that the United States remains a global leader in medical innovation, which in turn protects and helps create new jobs here at home.

The bill also includes important reforms to update our nation’s mental health programs. Mental health reform has long been a priority for me, and I know these reforms will go a long way toward changing the way we treat mental illness in America.

Another important issue addressed in the bill is the opioid prescription drug crisis impacting communities all across the country. Approximately 46,000 Americans die each year because of prescription drug abuse, so I’m pleased to report the bill includes $1 billion in new grants that can be given to states to help them combat opioid abuse.

Importantly, all new spending in the bill is offset, and the Congressional Budget Office estimates the bill will actually result in government savings.

The 21st Century Cures Act has been years in the making. Gabe, and many others who suffer from major diseases, have been traveling to Washington for over two years to advocate for this critical legislation. Legislation that gives them hope.

It is not often that Congress passes legislation that can actually save lives, but that is exactly what the 21st Century Cures Act has the potential to do. Just as important though, it also gives hope to people like Gabe and his family that a cure can be found. And sometimes, hope is exactly what you need.

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Bradley Byrne is a member of U.S. Congress representing Alabama’s 1st Congressional District.

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