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By: Brook Spencer

Wbrook-spencer_photoith a surprising level of support from both parties, the House passed a bill on November 30 to improve medical research funding for cancer, Alzheimer disease, opioid addiction, and a host of other medical conditions. As we are nearing the end of the current legislative term, a lot of people have been nervous about whether or not this piece of legislation would pass the Senate and become law before the Obama administration leaves office. This hope came true on December 7.

What does the 21st Century Cures Act entail?

The 21st Century Cures Act brings a noteworthy amount of funding to many widespread health issues at hand. Specifically, it gives the National Institutes of Health (NIH) approximately $4.8 million in funding over the next decade, which will be used for cancer research and research into other diseases. Simultaneously, this funding will continue to support the efforts of the Cancer Moonshot initiative. Headed by Vice President Joe Biden, this initiative is set to advance cancer research by doing about ten years work in just five.

There has been some concern about whether this funding will hold up to a new administration that was not a part of the initial creation and signing of the act. However, since the bill was signed by President Obama, the 21st Century Cures Act will remain in play. Unfortunately, that does not relieve all worry. There is still a chance that President-Elect Trump could forestall the efforts and veto the funding, which would negatively impact the Cancer Moonshot initiative.

Certain particular health research initiatives that will be impacted by this act could indirectly impact the efforts of the Moonshot as well. For example, funds will be given to a personalized medicine initiative to combat the start of certain conditions. This research can also be used toward cancer prevention efforts.shutterstock_311610347

In addition, the 21st Century Cures Act will give half a billion dollars to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve drug and medical device patents in a more timely manner. Changing this process to make it faster could help provide more treatment options available to patients. However, this also comes along with certain push-back. Many fear that the ease of approval could result in a risk to patients who might be left with a “rushed” treatment option.

What does this mean for rare cancers?

When it comes to rare cancers, two words that stand out are change and hope. These patients want to see new, innovative ways to treat cancer. They want to see a change to the way things have been done. They want a change to the access they have to treatments and clinical trials. They want to be cured of the disease that is trying to take their lives. Really, they want hope. Change can bring hope.

Traditional treatment methods are sometimes ineffective in treating rare cancers due to mutations. The 21st Century Cures Act has granted FDA additional authority over the approval of drugs and medical devices, which means the process timelines will improve. This has brought great hope to those battling rare cancer—one in particular being mesothelioma. This rare cancer is caused by exposure to asbestos. It is most predominantly found in the lungs, but can also occur in the abdomen and heart. Sadly, as many as 43,000 people around the world die annually from mesothelioma. The survival rate for those diagnosed with the disease is only about 9% after five years. Those who will undergo treatment for this cancer will have more options since access to new treatments will be available.

The bill will also make it easier for agencies and organizations to use and access electronic medical records. This will not only help rare cancer patients, but patients of all diseases. Researchers will have better access to information which will make finding commonalities between diseases easier.

2017 and Beyond

The 21st Century Cures Act is a monumental change to existing laws and, essentially, the way our country conducts medical research. There are undoubtedly worries that come along with it; however, the overall purpose of it stands strong. Patients who will be impacted are seeking hope for a cure, and if a cure isn’t in the outlook, then a hope for a better treatment is their best bet. The possible risks seem to outweigh the possible strides that it could make. In essence, the purpose of this act will improve the overall state of medical care as we know it today.

Brook Spencer is the community outreach director at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance. Their mission is to spread awareness for mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive but preventable cancer that is caused by asbestos exposure.