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Alexander: President Signs “Christmas Medical Miracle That Will Help Virtually Every American Family”

21st Century Cures Act, called “most important legislation of the year,” will help find cures for cancer, fight opioid addiction, treat mental illness, and prevent diseases like Alzheimer’s

WASHINGTON, December 13 — Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today said President Obama signed into law a “Christmas Medical Miracle,” the 21st Century Cures Act, which has been called “the most important legislation of the year” by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and has the potential to help virtually every American family. Alexander was the chief Senate sponsor of the legislation along with Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash).

“The real winners today are American families whose lives stand to be improved by the legislation signed into law. For the second consecutive year, President Obama has signed another Christmas miracle. Last year, it was the Every Student Succeeds Act, which restored control of K-12 education back to Tennessee and helps 50 million children in our nation’s 100,000 public schools. This year, it’s the 21st Century Cures Act – a law that will help virtually every family across Tennessee and America.”

Senator Alexander continued: “This bipartisan law will help us take advantage of the breathtaking advances in biomedical research and bring those innovations to doctors’ offices and patients’ medicine cabinets in Tennessee. This law will advance Vice President Biden’s moonshot to find cures for cancer and President Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative. It also helps states like Tennessee fight on the front lines against opioid abuse and helps the one in five Tennessee adults suffering from a mental illness get the care they need.”

Alexander, chairman of the Senate’s health committee, has worked on the legislation for two years, held 12 hearings, 5 working groups, and passed 19 bipartisan bills that make up much of the policy signed into law today.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, called the bill “the most important legislation Congress will pass this year.” President Obama called it an “opportunity we just can’t miss.” Vice President Biden called it “a big step for cancer research and the cancer moonshot.” Speaker Paul Ryan made the bill a centerpiece of his vision for our country’s future.

The law will help drive the research discoveries predicted over the next decade by Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, including the development of an artificial pancreas, organs built from patients' own stem cells, non-addictive painkillers, an HIV/AIDS vaccine and a Zika vaccine.

Opioid abuse in Tennessee:

The law helps fund the fight against opioid abuse – which takes the lives of more Tennesseans annually than gun shots or car wrecks – with $1 billion in grants to states over two years. In September of last year, Dr. Tom Frieden, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, came to Knoxville where and hosted a roundtable with local physicians, community leaders, and public health officials on ways to fight opioid abuse. He called opioid abuse “a growing epidemic that is gripping our country.” Tennessee ranks near the top for opioid abuse, with the third highest rate of abuse in the nation. ‎More than 1,000 Tennesseans die each year as a result of drug overdose.

Mental health in Tennessee:

The law strengthens and improves important mental health programs for the first time in over a decade, so that the one in five adult Tennesseans suffering from a mental health disorder can get the care they need. From 2012 to 2013, nearly 21 percent of adults in Tennessee reported having a mental illness, according to the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

Precision Medicine:

The law supports the President’s Precision Medicine Initiative – a plan to map the genomes of 1 million volunteers and make the data available to researchers so they can develop treatments and cures tailored to a patient’s genome, rather than one-size-fits-all treatments. The bill grants NIH more flexibility to make it easier for the agency to forge partnerships such as the recent $71.6 million, five year grant to Vanderbilt University Medical Center which puts Vandy “front and center” in the president’s Precision Medicine Initiative.

Electronic Health Records:

The law improves electronic health records so it’s easier for Tennessee patients to access their records and for doctors and hospitals to get the information they need to treat patients. A family physician in Kingsport, TN told the New York Times last year: “We have electronic records at our clinic, but the hospital, which I can see from my window, has a separate system from a different vendor. The two don’t communicate. When I admit patients to the hospital, I have to print out my notes and send a copy to the hospital so they can be incorporated into the hospital’s electronic records.”

Regenerative medicine:

The law will also help more people take advantage of regenerative medicine— an area of medicine where a person’s own cells are used to repair and rebuild organs and heal disease. A year and a half ago, Nashville resident Doug Oliver was legally blind. Today, he can see. Vanderbilt doctors told Mr. Oliver that there was no cure for the inherited form of Macular Degeneration that had gradually stolen his eyesight. After Oliver found a clinical trial in Florida, doctors extracted his own cells from his hip bone, spun them in a FDA-cleared centrifuge, and injected the appropriately isolated cells into his retina. Oliver’s left eye vision improved from 20/2000 to 20/40 and his right eye improved from 20/400 to 20/30. Last December, Doug received his Tennessee driver’s license 11 years after surrendering it because of blindness. Today, he is busy advising lawmakers in Washington about how this law will help more patients. 

Background on the 21st Century Cures Act:

  • Helps bring safe drugs and devices to market more quickly and at less cost by making needed reforms to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), including: expedited review for breakthrough devices, increased patient involvement in the drug approval process, a streamlined review process for combination products that are both a drug and device, and freedom from red tape for software like fitbits or calorie counting apps.
  • Provides $4.8 billion to National Institutes of Health, including: $1.8 billion for Vice President Biden’s "Cancer Moonshot” to speed cancer research; $1.4 billion for President Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative to drive research into the genetic, lifestyle and environmental variations of disease; and $1.6 billion for the BRAIN Initiative to improve our understanding of diseases like Alzheimer's and speed diagnosis and treatment.
  • Provides $500 million to the FDA.
  • Provides $1 billion in grants to states to address the opioid crisis.
  • Addresses the country’s mental health crisis and help the one out of five adult Americans suffering from mental illness receive the care they need.
  • Improves electronic health records for doctors and their patients. 


One-pagers on the 21st Century Cures Act:

  • Summary of what the 21st Century Cures Act does HERE.
  • How Cures will bring safe drugs and medical devices to patients faster HERE.
  • How Cures support states in the fight against the opioid abuse epidemic HERE.
  • How Cures supports the one in five adults suffering from a mental illness HERE.
  • How Cures delivers a fully-offset surge of targeted funding to tackle costly diseases and opioid abuse HERE.
  • How Cures encourages innovation and cuts red tape that stifles competition in the drug marketplace, which keeps many drug prices too high for Americans HERE.
  • How Cures supports Vice President Biden’s moonshot to find cures for cancer and the President’s Precision Medicine Initiative to find more personalized treatments and cures: HERE and HERE.
  • How the bill helps improve operations at the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health HERE.
  • How the bill improves electronic health records for better patient care HERE.