U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette Says 21st Century Cures Act Will Fuel Modern Health Research

A bipartisan bill to streamline regulation and provide $8.75 billion for health research will speed up much-needed innovation in the healthcare industry, U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver, said during a joint gathering of the 10.10.10 and Prime Health communities.

The 21st Century Cures Act takes aim at regulatory and research funding practices that made sense in the early part of the 20th Century, but which do not accommodate nimble research techniques and the use of large, multi-site data sets.

DeGette fielded questions from the audience of nearly 100 healthcare entrepreneurs and leaders meeting at INDUSTRY, a collaborative workspace in Denver’s blooming RiNo District. She had attracted a special convening of Prime Health, Colorado’s Digital Health ecosystem, and 10.10.10, the organization, which fosters focus on “wicked problems” such as the nation’s healthcare system. Most questions sought to discover how the bill might remove barriers that Colorado innovators encounter, such as lack of funding and arcane rules of government agencies such as the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

DeGette said her 21st Century Cures Act, which she co-sponsored in the House with Republican Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, was written after she and other members of the House Commerce Committee spent a year listening to the health research community. They heard about costly and time-consuming research review processes that discourage risk and complicate collaboration among different universities and research labs. They heard that funding favors research focused on single diseases and overlooks treatments that can be used across disease states. They learned it can cost $2 billion and ten years to bring a drug to market, much of that spent on late-stage trials that may be unnecessary.

She described a bill with many interconnected parts, not the least of which is a proposed infusion of $8.75 billion to fund “high-risk, high-reward” research that currently does not get funding under play-it-safe research funding rules. DeGette is hopeful of passage, despite the partisan atmosphere in Washington. She noted that the House passed the bill with 344 votes and that the Senate is fashioning its own complementary version of the legislation. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, has said the bill stands a chance of becoming law in 2016, even thought it’s an election year.

DeGette said she was encouraged by the growing power of the digital health industry in Colorado. Before taking the microphone, she had heard Kimberly Gandy, MD, CEO of a digital health startup company, describe the support she received from Prime Health: mentors who helped her team hone their pilot proposal and their investor pitch and introduction to decision makers at health systems across the country. “What normally takes us a year to do, Prime Health put together in a month,” said Gandy, a pediatric heart surgeon who is leading Play-it Health, which has developed a personalized mobile software solution to simplify individuals’ health information and provide them with clear steps toward improving their health. Her company, currently headquartered in Kansas City, is looking to move to Denver to be closer to the digital health action, she said.

Also addressing the audience was Cheryl Kellond, a serial entrepreneur who participated in the 10.10.10 event focused on health earlier this year. She is putting together a “ninja team” to address the 3 percent of the population that accounts for 50 percent of healthcare costs.

Jeffrey Nathanson, CEO of Prime Health, said DeGette’s decision to explain her bill to the group is further evidence of the energy that is being amassed through Prime Health. “Prime Health has become a business ecosystem that is driving toward making Colorado the healthiest state in the nation and a hub for digital health innovation.”

Tom Higley, founder of 10.10.10, was pleased to see the progress being made in addressing problems outlined in his group’s February 2015 program on health issues. “Entrepreneurs today have more opportunities to deliver industry transforming innovations in health and healthcare than at any other time in human history. By engaging impact entrepreneurs, connecting them to health industry stakeholders and focusing their attention on wicked problems that can be addressed with market-based solutions, 10.10.10 acknowledges and embraces this historic moment. It was a privilege to co-host, with Prime Health, the Meetup featuring Congresswoman Diana DeGette as she outlined and discussed 21st Century Cures, the visionary legislation she co-sponsored that passed overwhelmingly in the House of Representatives.”