2 February 2012. At a press conference held today in Washington, D.C., congressional leaders introduced "The Spending Reductions Through Innovations in Therapies (SPRINT) Agenda Act of 2012.” The bill aims to slash federal spending on long-term healthcare costs by stimulating research that helps prevent or treat expensive, chronic diseases that have no cure, such as Alzheimer's, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. If passed, the bill would simultaneously provide seed money to stimulate development of promising new therapies, require a 2:1 ratio of private to federal funding, and help speed review of potential therapies by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Initial co-sponsors of the bill are Senators Susan Collins (R-Me), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), John Kerry (D-MA), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), as well as representatives Ed Markey (D-MA) and Christopher Smith (R-NJ). Several of them spoke today about their own experiences with Alzheimer’s and personal commitment to eradicating the disease. “My mother died from Alzheimer’s,” said Markey. “Failure is not an option, for those families [who are affected by the disease] and for the federal budget.
The bill would authorize appropriation of $50 million in federal dollars to be set aside for awards in fiscal year 2013. Public or nonprofit organizations and start-up companies that have promising new therapies could apply for the funding. The Secretary of Health and Human Services would, in collaboration with experts in the field, decide who receives awards and how big each would be. Fifty million dollars may seem like pennies compared to the nearly $130 billion Medicare and Medicaid spent caring for people with dementia in 2011. The bill will also require that award recipients find an additional $2 of public or private investment for every $1 in federal grants provided in the award.
“DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) has adopted exactly this kind of model, leveraging private resources, and also private brains to make sure that we have the best and the brightest working on these problems,” Blumenthal said. In true DARPA style, each awardee would be subject to periodic evaluation based on milestones set out at the beginning of each project. If a group falls short of meeting those goals, the secretary can pull funding for his or her project.
As for expedited FDA review, the bill asks that the agency make therapies for these chronic conditions a priority, and calls for earlier and more efficient communication between the agency and the therapy sponsors regarding its status.
Having been formally introduced in the House and Senate today, the SPRINT Act now awaits a Senate hearing some time this year. “We are going to sprint ahead,” said Mikulski. “I hope that we would beat the 2025 [National Plan] benchmark, and I am sure we will.” Toward that end, USAgainstAlzheimer’s, a D.C.-based advocacy group, is mounting a letter campaign to mobilize support for the bill. Readers who would like to sign their names to it can e-mail Elizabeth Plant.—Gwyneth Dickey Zakaib.
From left to right: Sen. Susan Collins, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Rep. Edward Markey, George Vrandenburg of USAgainstAlzheimer’s, and Sen. Barbara Mikulski voiced support for the SPRINT Agenda Act 2012 today at a news conference. Image Credit: The Office of Rep. Ed Markey