RDLA Welcomes Sabah Bhatnagar as Program Director

Sabah Bhatnagar recently joined the EveryLife Foundation team as Program Director of Rare Disease Legislative Advocates (RDLA). She was previously the Government and Industry Affairs Coordinator at the Association of Clinical Research Organizations (ACRO), where she advocated for policy and regulation that support clinical research and the development of innovative, safe, and effective treatments and promoted a more efficient clinical trial process. As a Health Policy Communications Associate at the Alliance for Health Reform, a non-partisan organization focused on educating policy-makers about health policy, she helped execute over 70 events on a variety of health policy topics.

Sabah is a rare disease patient and holds a B.S. in biology from the University of Mary Washington. She is based in Washington, DC and looks forward to engaging the rare disease community.

New Report on Economic Impact of NIH Research Helps Make Case for Increased Funding

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is the largest biomedical research agency in the world committed to improving health by conducting and funding research. Significant cuts to the NIH budget in the President’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 budget and proposal for the remainder of FY2017 are of significant concern to patients and researchers, and threaten the pace of scientific discovery.

NIH has several initiatives focused on increasing understanding of rare diseases and the speed at which new treatments are developed. These include the Rare Diseases Clinical Research Network, Office of Rare Diseases Research and Therapeutics for Rare and Neglected Diseases program as well as the Undiagnosed Diseases Network, which seeks to provide answers to patients with rare genetic diseases and the Clinical Center, which is the largest hospital dedicated to clinical research in the U.S.

Data in a new report illustrates that NIH research creates jobs across the country and helps make the case that funding should be increased, not decreased. According to United for Medical Research (UMR), research funded by NIH supported close to 380k jobs and $64.799 billion in economic activity in FY2016.

“NIH-funded research is an engine for economic and medical progress, making the drastic cuts to the NIH proposed in the President’s initial budget doubly dangerous. These cuts will stymie the jobs creation and economic activity happening today as a result of NIH-funded research and they will slow down or completely stall critical research on a range of diseases, including some of our most costly health problems…” stated UMR President Lizbet Boroughs.

You can find the impact of NIH funding in your state here. The one-pager on the need for increased funding for NIH and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from the Lobby Day during Rare Disease Week on Capitol Hill is available here, and a video of the presentation on this topic by Sara Chang of Research!America during the Legislative Conference can be found here in the section entitled “Rare Disease Legislation in the Queue”.

Rare Disease Congressional Caucus Briefing Videos Now Available

The Rare Disease Congressional Caucus hosted a briefing during Rare Disease Week on Capitol Hill which focused on Advancing Rare Disease Treatments in the Era of Cures and Health Care Reform.

After welcoming remarks from Caucus Co-Chair Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), the panelists addressed implementation of the 21st Century Cures Act, reauthorization of the Prescription Drug User Fee Act, efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, new models for rare disease drug development such as repurposing, and the role of incentives to encourage the development of orphan therapies.

Videos from the briefing are available here. A full list of Caucus members and videos from previous briefings are available on the Caucus webpage.

Rare Disease Week on Capitol Hill Engaged 600+ Advocates

Thank you to the 600+ rare disease patients, caregivers, researchers and other advocates who joined us for at least one event during Rare Disease Week on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC from Monday, February 27th, through Thursday, March 2nd.

The week began at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), where the EveryLife Foundation’s Chief Advocacy and Science Policy Officer presented an update on our work to improve the state newborn screening system and create incentives to encourage biopharmaceutical companies to repurpose approved medicines for rare diseases.

That evening, we hosted a cocktail reception, screening of the documentary Up for Air, and panel discussion. Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) and Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA) made brief remarks.

Aproximately 350 advocates joined us for the Legislative Conference on Tuesday, which was livestreamed for the first time. Experts from Capitol Hill and patient advocacy organizations discussed what to expect from the new Congress and Trump Administration, how to build effective relationships with Members of Congress and staff, and key legislation. Video and presentations will be available on the Legislative Conference resource page.

Advocates began Lobby Day at breakfast with remarks by Dr. Janet Woodcock, Director of the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, as well as Representative Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) and former Representative Brian Baird (D-WA), who urged advocates to be brief, polite and persistent in their meetings with Members of Congress and staff.

328 rare disease advocates participated in 270 Lobby Day meetings, discussing the Rare Disease Congressional Caucus, healthcare reform, incentives for rare disease drug development and other key legislative topics.

On Wednesday evening, we hosted the annual Rare Artist Reception which featured winning entries from the 2016 contest and remarks from several of the artists.

The final event of the week was a Rare Disease Congressional Caucus briefing entitled, ” Advancing Rare Disease Treatments in the Era of Cures and Health Care Reform.” Caucus Co-Chair Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) welcomed advocates and Congressional staff. Video will be posted on the Caucus webpage within a few weeks.

Follow Rare Disease Legislative Advocates on Twitter and Facebook for news on upcoming events.

Four Ways to Participate Remotely in Rare Disease Week on Capitol Hill

If you are not able to join us and advocates from across the country at Rare Disease Week on Capitol Hill on February 27th through March 2nd, you can still make your voice heard on Capitol Hill and participate in some of the programming.

Here are four ways you can participate remotely:

  1. Watch the livestream of Rare Disease Day at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on Monday, February 27th. The agenda and link to register are available on the NIH website. Speakers include representatives from Global Genes, EveryLife Foundation for Rare Diseases and FasterCures as well as leaders from NIH and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). If you are on social media, use the hashtag #RDDNIH to be part of the conversation.
  2. Watch the livestream of the Legislative Conference on Tuesday, February 28th, to learn what to expect from the new Congress and Trump Administration, how to build an effective relationship with Members of Congress and staff, and about key legislation for the rare disease community. The draft agenda, link to register for the free livestream and legislative issue briefs are available here. If you are on social media, use the hashtag #RareDC2017 to quote speakers, comment and ask questions.
  3. Call your Members of Congress on Lobby Day on Wednesday, March 1st. The one-page background papers for each of the key legislative issues discussed at the Legislative Conference are available here. You can review them and decide which you might want to ask your Members of Congress to support. You can find contact information for your elected officials here.
  4. Email your Members of Congress on Lobby Day on Wednesday, March 1st. Chose the current RDLA action alerts you support. We make it easy for you to send an email to your legislators. You can ask them to join the bipartisan Rare Disease Congressional Caucus, which hosts quarterly briefings on Capitol Hill to raise awareness and educate Members and staff.

Please join us to help educate the new Congress and shape healthcare policy to better meet the needs of the rare disease community!

Sign up to receive news from Rare Disease Legislative Advocates to ensure that you don’t miss any updates on Rare Disease Week on Capitol Hill! You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Video from Rare Disease Congressional Caucus Briefing on PDUFA Now Available

The final Rare Disease Congressional Caucus briefing of 2016 focused on the Prescription Drug User Fee Act (PDUFA), the agreement between the biopharmaceutical industry and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regarding user fees paid by industry to supplement federal funding for human drug review.

Congress will need to reauthorize PDUFA before the current agreement expires at the end of September 2017, which will be an opportunity to include provisions to encourage the development and streamline the review of rare disease treatments.

Watch the videos to learn more from representatives from debra of America, National Health Council, Biotechnology Innovation Organization, Genentech and office of U.S. Representative Leonard Lance (NJ).

http://rareadvocates.org/driving-innovation-for-lifesaving-therapies-through-pdufa-reauthorization-in-2017/

Webinar Provides Overview of Rare Disease Week on Capitol Hill 2017

 

Rare Disease Legislative Advocates recently hosted a webinar which provided an overview of Rare Disease Week on Capitol Hill, to be held February 27th through March 2nd, 2017 in Washington, DC.  The week of events brings together rare disease community members from across the country to be educated on federal legislative issues, meet other advocates, and share their unique stories with legislators. There will be new Members of the House and Senate next year, and it is critical for them to meet members of their communities affected by rare disease.

All of the events are free for patient advocates, and registration will open on January 4th.

Not Able to Attend? Submit Your Unique Perspective to be Hand-Delivered to Congress

We want every Member of Congress to hear from constituents affected by rare disease, and you can make your voice heard even if you can’t join us in person. Please share your unique perspective and let your legislators know what issues matter most to you by filling out our online form by February 12th so that we can hand-deliver it on Lobby Day.

Check the Rare Disease Week on Capitol Hill webpage for more information and updates.

Travel Stipends for Rare Disease Week on Capitol Hill Increased!

The EveryLife Foundation for Rare Diseases will provide travel stipends to enable advocates from across the country to participate in Rare Disease Week on Capitol Hill, to be held February 27th through March 2nd, 2017.

Thanks to a generous donation to our Rare Giving program by Horizon Pharma, we are able to increase the amount offered to recipients! Advocates in Maryland and Virginia are eligible to receive $400 stipends, while advocates in other states in the continental U.S. are eligible to receive $800. Advocates in Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico are eligible to receive $1,000 stipends.

In order to receive a stipend, advocates must attend the Legislative Conference and Lobby Day. Applications are available online through December 18th. All applicants will be notified whether they will receive a stipend or are on the waitlist on January 3rd.

We hosted a webinar earlier this month to provide an overview of the events during Rare Disease Week on Capitol Hill, highlight travel options to Washington, DC and answer questions.  You can find the webinar recording and schedule of events online.

We hope you will plan to join us to educate the new Congress and help shape healthcare policy to better meet the needs of the rare disease community. You can sign up to receive news from Rare Disease Legislative Advocates to ensure that you don’t miss any updates on Rare Disease Week on Capitol Hill. You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Thank you to

President Obama Signs Landmark 21st Century Cures Bill into Law

NEVER doubt that your voice as a rare disease advocate matters! President Obama just signed the 21st Century Cures Act into law, after it passed both the House and Senate with broad bipartisan support. This would not have been possible without advocates from EveryLife Foundation for Rare Diseases, Global Genes, National Organization for Rare Disorders, Inc. (NORD) and many disease-specific organizations who called, emailed and met with Members of Congress in the past year and a half.

The 21st Century Cures Act includes:

  • $4.8 billion in new funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH)
  • $500 million in new funding for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
  • Formally establishes the Precision Medicine and Cancer Moonshot initiatives
  • Reauthorization of the Rare Pediatric Disease Priority Review Voucher program through 2020
  • Funding for the establishment of a national neurological disease surveillance system coordinated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
  • Improved biomarker qualification
  • Allowances for the FDA to recruit and retain additional specialized employees
  • Strengthened patient engagement at the FDA through the Patient Focused Impact Assessment Act
  • A regenerative medicine designation to allow such products to qualify for priority review and accelerated approval
  • Provisions to foster programs to improve mental health and deter substance abuse

These provisions and additional funding would boost our nation’s research capacity and help modernize the drug review and approval process at the FDA.

How should Congress use its lame-duck session? First, it can save lives.

Originally published in the Washington Post:

REPUBLICANS ARE signaling that they will pursue an ambitious conservative agenda when they take the reins of government next year. But before that happens, the current Congress will convene in its lame-duck session, valuable legislative time that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said this week he hopes to put to good use.

The session may be consumed by arguments over federal budgeting. But if there is time for anything else, Mr. McConnell may push the 21st Century Cures Act, a bipartisan effort that has taken years to get close to passing. Congress should nudge it across the finish line — taking care to repair a few problems along the way.

The act, a version of which passed in the House last year, proposes a one-time, multibillion-dollar increase in funding for the National Institutes of Health. The money could provide a sharp boost to the Obama administration’s cancer initiative, or to research into precision medicine, which tailors treatments to people’s genomes. Rapid progress in both is possible and could save many lives; new cancer drugs have emerged targeting specific mutations in tumor cells, and they have shown encouraging initial results in treating even some of the most complex cancers. The new funding could also go into competitive grants for scientists with particularly innovative projects that are nevertheless underfunded. Given that so many lifesaving pharmaceuticals have their origins in government-sponsored scientific research, the funding boost would be a good investment.

The new money alone, however, would struggle to attract strong bipartisan backing. So lawmakers linked it to various reforms of the Food and Drug Administration’s approval process, arguing that the agency has been hamstrung in getting new drugs to market. One reform on the table would adjust hiring standards at the FDA, which is perpetually short-staffed. The agency has improved on the time it takes to approve new medications, but a more flexible hiring policy could help further. There are also worthwhile provisions that would give gravely sick patients with few options easier access to experimental medication.

Critics have raised some valid concerns. For example, lawmakers should ensure that a proposed adjustment to rules on the approval and use of new antibiotics does not have the unintended side effect of encouraging antibiotic overuse and resistance — the very problem the provision is supposed to combat.

The bill’s backers insist that the FDA’s bottom-line legal mandate would continue to ensure that drugs were safe and effective, even as the agency was granted more flexibility in meeting that standard. This means, then, that it would be up to the FDA to use its new powers wisely.

Despite the caveats, though, the act is worth supporting. If the lame-duck Senate can pass its version and merge it with the House’s, addressing some of the concerns in the process, it would be a valuable use of Congress’s time.