The jam-packed grouping of biomedical innovation, health technology and mental health reform bills called the 21st Century Cures Act is one step closer to becoming law after passing a procedural vote in the Senate on Monday.
Vice President Joe Biden took the rare step of presiding over the Senate to oversee the act's approval of a cloture vote that easily obtained the 60 votes needed to officially end debate on the floor. The Senate is expected to clear the bill this week and then it will be sent to President Barack Obama's desk.
The House of Representatives passed the bill overwhelmingly last week to much celebration from healthcare industry groups and pharmaceutical companies. Mental health advocates also praised the act as containing much needed updates to the nation's behavioral health system.
Some patient safety groups, however, object to what they say are weakened regulations over certain drugs and devices requiring Food and Drug Administration approval. Thirteen senators voted against advancing the bill Monday.
Obama has said he is eager to sign the legislation.
“I'll sign it as soon as it reaches my desk, because like a lot of you, I've lost people I love to cancer. I hear every day from Americans whose loved ones are suffering from addiction and other debilitating diseases,” Obama said in his weekly address this past weekend. “And I believe we should seize every chance we have to find cures as soon as possible. When it's your family, hope can't come soon enough.”
The legislation contains $4.8 billion in funding for the National Institutes of Health for programs like Obama's precision medicine initiative and Biden's cancer research “moonshot” program. Senators stood up and applauded when the bill was amended to name the program after Biden's son Beau, who died from brain cancer last May at the age of 46.
Some lawmakers objected that the funding in the act needs to be appropriated annually.
The uncertainty of future funding led high-profile Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont to oppose the act. They also decried concessions to the pharmaceutical industry.