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SPRINTing to a cure
WASHINGTON, D.C.—U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., recently introduced a bill in support of research for some of the most devastating and costly illnesses. The Spending Reductions through Innovations in Therapies (SPRINT) Act, or Senate Bill 2069, details a plan to reduce federal expenditures in Medicare and Medicaid by investing in viable therapies that would treat or potentially cure costly diseases.
Through a public-private partnership where each federal dollar is matched with two dollars from the private sector, SPRINT will support funding for innovative research programs for chronic conditions.
Medicare and Medicaid costs associated with chronic conditions are expected to increase tremendously with an aging population. Two out 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 by chronic conditions and the federal deficit, through the investment in promising new therapies, drugs and technologies.
SPRINT allocates $50 million of federal funds for investment in biomedical research for the 2013 fiscal year and each year through 2017. Coupled with private funding, a total of $150 million could be invested in research programs in the coming year if SPRINT is enacted. This would allow research entities to invest in high-risk—but high-reward—programs that may lead to treatments and possible cures for conditions that are among the leading causes of death in the United States.
The bill stipulates that funding will be granted to research targeting the leading causes of death in the United States that have the highest cost associated with care and treatment, the greatest impairment on daily life, an already high and increasing death rate and those conditions for which there are few therapies. Among the frontrunners for funding are cancer, diabetes and heart disease. However, none are more qualified to receive federal funding than Alzheimer's disease.
Alzheimer's is precisely the type of condition that SPRINT hopes to address. It is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States and is the only one of the top 10 conditions that cannot be prevented, slowed or cured. Alzheimer's tops the list of conditions that are the most devastating for patients and the most crippling to the federal budget. According to the Alzheimer's Association, 5.1 million Americans aged 65 and older suffer from the disease—a number that is expected to nearly triple by 2050. Medicaid and Medicare costs associated with the disease are expected to rise by 400 percent and 600 percent, respectively, by 2050.
"Alzheimer's alone costs the United States $183 billion a year, a figure that is only going to explode exponentially as the baby boomers age, as we live longer and thus become more at risk for Alzheimer's. If nothing is 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 by the close involvement of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In order to ensure that treatments are both safe and efficacious but also readily available, SPRINT endeavors to streamline the FDA review process for all participating research partners. Ongoing discussions between the FDA and research partners are required. Per the funding contract, all research programs under SPRINT are required to agree to certain success markers that will be periodically reviewed by 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 traditional FDA 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 healthcare spending and long-term care costs. This bill saves lives and saves money," says Mikulski. "I think America and the world calls for innovation that makes sure we have new drugs, new biomedical products and new medical devices, and just in the same way we need innovation in the production of new drugs and bio-product devices, we need innovation in the legislative process. We need partnership, and we need it now."