The Senate overwhelmingly passed the 21st Century Cures Act on Wednesday with a 94-5 vote, one week after it cleared the House.
It will now go to President Barack Obama, who promised to sign it into law.
“We are now one step closer to ending cancer as we know it, unlocking cures for diseases like Alzheimer’s and helping people seeking treatment for opioid addiction finally get the help they need,” said President Obama in statement released by the White House.
The passing of this bill comes after years of negotiations among Congress. The 21st Century Cures Act gives more than $6 billion for cutting-edge health initiatives, including an allocated 1.8 billion dollars to support Vice President Joe Biden’s Cancer Moonshot program.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also announced that the Moonshot portion of the bill will be named after Biden’s son, Beau Biden, who died of a brain tumor last year.
In addition to funding for the Moonshot initiative, the 21st Century Cures Act also allocated one billion dollars to fighting the opioid epidemic; 1.5 billion dollars for the BRAIN Initiative that finds new ways to treat, cure and prevent brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s and epilepsy; 1.5 billion dollars over 10 years for the Precision Medicine Initiative; and 500 million dollars to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) over 10 years to speed up the drug approval process and access to medical devices for patients. It also includes bipartisan mental health reforms.
The initiative was spearheaded by Republican Fred Upton, Sixth Congressional District of Michigan, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee with the help of Diana DeGette, a Democrat, First Congressional District of Colorado.
“After three years, our legislative work is finally complete. 21st Century Cures is ready for the president,” tweeted Upton. The president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), Daniel Hayes, M.D., praised the Senate for the passage of the bill.
“This landmark legislation will spur development and delivery of promising new treatments for patients,” said Hayes in a statement. "As the world's leading professional organization representing over 40,000 physicians and other health-care professionals who care for people with cancer, we understand all too well the challenge of developing the treatments and cures that will make a difference to patients. Thankfully, due to breakthroughs in precision medicine and renewed federal commitment to cancer research, most patients with cancer have better treatment outcomes than ever before.”
While the bill has cleared Congress, it has not come without controversy surrounding some components of the legislation regarding the FDA. Some patient advocates worry that safety will be sacrificed in the rush to push drugs to the markets.
Both senators Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. have been very outspoken on their opposition of the bill. Warren called it “extortion” saying the “American people deserve a better deal.” Sanders said the bill does not do enough to curtail drug prices.