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Congress poised to pass sweeping biomedical innovation bill

Congress is poised to approve a massive piece of legislation that would provide the National Institutes of Health (NIH) with $4.8 billion over the next decade for a set of research initiatives, including brain and cancer research and efforts to develop so-called precision medicine treatments that are tailored to an individual’s genetic makeup.

The bill, known as 21st Century Cures, also includes a number of other provisions that could shape how federally funded researchers do their work. It would, for instance, establish a new, quasi-governmental Research Policy Board that would advise the government on how to streamline regulations that affect federally funded researchers. Roughly half the appointees to the board, which could have up to 22 members, would come from academia and nonprofit groups. Creation of the board follows decades of complaints about burdensome federal regulations from researchers.

21st Century Cures has been in development for more than 2 years. Originally spurred by a desire among many members of Congress to finds ways to speed the development of new treatments, the bill focuses primarily on shaping policy at NIH and the Food and Drug Administration. It also became a vehicle for those hoping to boost NIH funding, including through so-called mandatory funding mechanisms, which create a dedicated funding stream that is not vulnerable to the vagaries of the annual appropriations process. A version of the bill passed by the House of Representatives included some $8 billion in new NIH funding, for instance.

The final version released 25 November, however, includes about $3 billion less, according to The Hill newspaper. “How to pay for that funding in a bipartisan way was the subject of months of tough negotiations,” The Hill reports. “The new spending is paid for in part through cutting $3.5 billion from ObamaCare’s Prevention and Public Health Fund, a cut that had drawn some resistance from Democrats. The measure also raises some money by selling oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.”

According to a statement released by the House's Energy and Commerce Committee, the bill includes $1.4 billion for President Barack Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative, $1.8 billion for Vice Joe President Biden’s "cancer moonshot,” and $1.6 billion for the White House's Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies initiative.

Although congressional leaders are still negotiating portions of the bill, a final vote is expected before Congress adjourns in December. The House will is expected to get the ball rolling this week, with a vote scheduled for Wednesday, 30 November.

To learn more about 21st Century Cures and what it will mean for researchers, come back to ScienceInsider in coming days.

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