Monday, April 27, 2009

Senator Specter Calls for New Federal Biotech Agency

From Reuters and the Boston Globe:

Republican senator pushes biotech funding
Apr 25, 2009, Boston Globe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Senate Republican who could prove a swing vote in the U.S. healthcare debate said on Saturday he wanted a new agency to help struggling biotech companies as part of a future healthcare system.

Senator Arlen Specter said the new agency could be important as Democrats push a health plan that aims to rein in soaring costs and to provide health coverage for an estimated 46 million uninsured Americans.

"I believe that we can live not only longer lives, but healthier lives, by harnessing and applying the genius of our biomedical research community and getting about the task of accelerating cures," Specter said in remarks prepared for a Chicago speech to physicians and researchers.

Specter, who has survived two bouts of cancer, proposed a new agency known as the Cures Acceleration Network that would award grants to cash-strapped biotech companies to help them develop new treatments.

He said these companies are having difficulty tapping into private capital and a number have cut or put on hold important drug development programs that could provide new treatments for cancer, multiple sclerosis, diabetes and other diseases.

"Without adequate funding, these companies will be unable to take these products to the development state, the basic research done by the NIH (National Institutes of Health) will be lost, and many patients will die waiting for drugs and devices to give them a better quality of life," Specter said.

A copy of his speech was made available in Washington.

Specter was able to secure additional funds for NIH as part of the $787 billion economic stimulus package signed into law by President Barack Obama.

Specter's vote for that package got him into trouble with some of his fellow Republicans and he is facing a primary challenge for re-election in Pennsylvania next year from conservative Pat Toomey.

Specter said he would make creation of the new agency and increased funding for NIH a major focus of his re-election bid next year. He also said he would push to include the measure in the sweeping healthcare overhaul that Obama wants.

Democrats control 58 votes in the 100-member Senate and could need the support of at least two Republican votes to overcome any procedural roadblocks.

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