With the Senate no longer filibuster-proof, the future of the health care bill is fairly murky. In early January, Congress was deep into negotiations on a final version, which includes language that would be a major shot in the arm for the biotechnology industry and provide great benefits to patients.
BIO President Jim Greenwood says the health care bill (H.R. 3590) passed by the Senate just before Christmas contains numerous provisions that would reduce costs, expand access and help the biotech industry develop medical breakthroughs that will lead to new, improved and more efficient treatments for patients.
“These provisions are a triumph for sick patients and their families,” says Greenwood, pointing to three specific measures in the Senate version that would promote biotech innovation and benefit patients:
Fast track for biosimilars. Both the House and Senate bills contain provisions that would establish a fair and balanced pathway for the approval of biosimilars, sometimes inaccurately referred to as biogenerics.
A biologic is manufactured in a living system such as a microorganism, or plant or animal cells. Most biologics are very large, complex molecules or mixtures of molecules. Strong bipartisan majorities on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee voted for provisions that strike the appropriate balance among ensuring patient safety, expanding competition, reducing costs and providing necessary and fair incentives that will provide for continued biomedical breakthroughs. These provisions drew support from a broad array of stakeholders including patient groups, medical specialty groups, academia and even Governors.
Tax credits for small biotech companies. Through a proposal authored by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the legislation would provide relief to investment-starved small biotech research companies by creating a therapeutic discovery project tax credit.
This provision would provide a tax credit to help offset a portion of resources spent on therapeutic development activities, including hiring scientists and conducting clinical studies. The goal is to help sustain projects that likely will lead to new therapies and create and save thousands of jobs.
Special research grants. The Cures Acceleration Network sponsored by Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) would help speed the development of next-generation therapies and possibly even cures by providing federal grants to promising projects in the public, private, academic and research communities.
The CAN provision would also help expedite Food and Drug Administration review of highly innovative safe and effective treatments for patients.
The Senate bill has yet to be reconciled with the bill approved by the House in early November, the Affordable Health Care for America Act (H.R. 3962).