HHS will be able to transfer funds to FDA’s Oncology Center of Excellence thanks to language included in the House Appropriations Committee’s fiscal 2018 agriculture appropriations bill released Tuesday (June 27). Inside Health Policy had previously reported that FDA was using its existing funding to support OCE, and that the agency and the National Institutes of Health were exploring how to get resources transferred through the Economy Act (see related story).
The House Appropriations agriculture funding bill, scheduled for markup Wednesday (June 28), answers calls from cancer research advocacy groups and lawmakers to give HHS the authority to transfer funds as needed between HHS agencies.
During a May 25 House Appropriations subcommittee meeting, Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-KS) and FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb noted that FDA’s OCE was not receiving funding from the 21st Century Cures Act that Congress intended for the center. At the same time, an FDA spokesperson told IHP the agencies were looking at how resources could be transferred from NIH to FDA through the Economy Act, which allows an agency to place an order with another agency for goods or services. Advocacy groups pointed out that complicated language in Cures was preventing NIH from transferring funds to OCE.
“The arrangement between NIH, the White House and the department and the FDA is actually that $75 million would be transferred to the Moonshot — $15 million a year over five years. That has always been the intent. Unfortunately the language in the Cures bill made it very complicated … so the Moonshot money stayed in NIH,” Ellen Sigal, chair and founder of Friends of Cancer Research, explained to IHP. “Some authorizers thought it was OK to transfer funds over to FDA, and some appropriators and NIH lawyers were concerned that ambiguity in the bill made it hard to transfer the money.”
The appropriations bill allocates funding to FDA as authorized under Cures and “includes language to allow FDA to receive transfers from the National Institutes of Health for support of the FDA’s Oncology Center of Excellence,” the appropriations subcommittee press release states.
Specifically, the bill allocates $60 million to FDA’s Innovation Account and states that the HHS secretary can transfer these funds to “other accounts of the Department of Health and Human Services” for FDA activities, including the development of intercenter institutes such as OCE.
Cancer research advocates applauded the move from appropriators. However, one group points out that aside from this bill, there are still efforts to ensure OCE gets its portion of fiscal 2017 funding.
“This is positive. Were very pleased about this. We still have to deal with the additional $15 million that was supposed to be transferred last year. But this is very positive step, and it acknowledges the intent of the Cures legislation,” Sigal said.
The American Association for Cancer Research is “encouraged that the agriculture subcommittee is allocating certain resources” to OCE but also notes that the subcommittee that oversees HHS’ budget will also need to give the go-ahead for HHS to transfer the funds.
“[The appropriations committee is] going to have to get same language in the labor-HHS bill … There will have to be transfer authority in the HHS-labor bill that will allow NIH to transfer funds to OCE,” Jon Retzlaff, AACR’s chief policy officer, told IHP.
Despite some upcoming “hurdles,” Retzlaff said this is a “first but extremely important step” to ensuring OCE gets its funding.
“It’s showing that Congress wants to continue the momentum from the Cancer Moonshot program that was established through 21st Century Cures. They’re putting dollars behind that momentum now and that has been extremely supported by Congress. [There’s been] a bipartisan unanimous force in Congress to push this forward. By getting it in on the first step here, I think we’ll see the momentum for this even grow throughout these next steps, these next hurdles we’ll need to get over,” Retzlaff said. — Beth Wang (firstname.lastname@example.org)