This morning, the House of Representatives passed the 21st Century Cures Act by a vote of 344-77, achieving a truly bipartisan result in a difficult political environment. (I’ve blogged about the Act several times now, and the House Energy & Commerce Committee has a clear section-by-section summary here.) There is much to like in the bill (such as the increased NIH funding), much to be concerned about (such as some of the provisions abbreviating FDA review of drugs and devices), and much whose value will depend on implementation. It’s also not certain that any of these provisions will ultimately become law – the Senate has yet to even introduce its own draft bill, let alone vote on it or achieve a consensus with the House. But I wanted to use this post to draw attention to a new amendment to the Act that was introduced a few days ago and approved by the House this morning prior to the vote on the full bill.
Representatives Todd Young (R-IN) and Andy Harris (R-MD) introduced an amendment creating an Innovation Prize Program within the NIH. As the text stood on Wednesday (speakers on the floor of the House today suggested that some of this language is likely to change, if it has not already changed), it instructed the Director of the NIH to create the fund in service of one or both of these two goals: 1) “Identifying and funding areas of biomedical science that could realize significant advancements through the creation of a prize competition” and 2) “Improving health outcomes, particularly with respect to human diseases and conditions for which public and private investment in research is disproportionately small relative to Federal Government expenditures on prevention and treatment activities, thereby reducing Federal expenditures on health programs.” The Director is also given wide discretion to design prize competitions, including whether they involve a lump-sum award at the end or are parceled out in milestone payments along the way.