Senators Kennedy and Hutchison introduce long-anticipated cancer legislation
In late March, Senators Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) introduced the long-anticipated 21st Century Cancer Access to Lifesaving Early Detection, Research and Treatment (ALERT) Act (S. 717), legislation that is intended to revitalize the war on cancer by modernizing and advancing the National Cancer Program of the United States.
The Senators first began laying the groundwork for this legislation more than a year ago with the goal of updating the National Cancer Act of 1971. They actively sought input from stakeholders representing every aspect of cancer research and care from the bench to bedside, including the AACR, in a comprehensive approach to identifying and addressing the complexities and obstacles confronting the cancer program.
The result of their efforts is legislation that aims to accelerate the search for cures, more effective treatments and better preventive measures while addressing the ongoing needs of the nearly 12 million Americans struggling with cancer today.
With regard to its effect on cancer research, the ALERT Act would:
- update the role of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in coordinating the national cancer program;
- cover the standard of care for patients participating in a clinical trial;
- establish a data stewardship entity within NCI to support a national biorepository network for annotated tissue collection;
- improve privacy standards in clinical research to streamline data access while protecting patients;
- endorse the use of a centralized Institutional Review Board when warranted; and
- promote biomarker development through public/private partnerships, testing programs, and establishment of clear guidelines for review by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).
Some of the other provisions included would:
- support patient access to prevention and early detection technologies;
- stabilize the health professions workforce;
- reauthorize the patient navigator program;
- improve coverage of cancer services through CMS;
- address cancer survivorship and complete recovery issues;
- encourage more streamlined oncology drug review at FDA
"We've come a long way in fighting cancer since we passed the National Cancer Act 38 years ago, but not far enough," said Kennedy in a press release. "Cancer is a complex disease and it requires comprehensive strategies to fight it - strategies that integrate research, prevention and treatment."
"The prescription isn't simple, but there are steps we must take if we are going to see the cancer diagnosis rate decline, while raising the prognosis for survival among those who do have the disease. Our legislation will enact those necessary steps so we may see more progress and coordination in cancer research and treatment," followed Hutchison.
The Senators are now working to secure broad, bipartisan support for the ALERT Act from their congressional colleagues in an effort to see the bill approved as quickly as possible. A House companion has not yet been introduced.
Read More from the April Edition of the AACR Cancer Policy Monitor: