By Christine Metz, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius thinks it’s taking too long to bring life-saving drugs to patients who need them.
The former Kansas governor returned to the region Tuesday morning to address a crowd of more than 200 at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, Mo. Accompanying her were the heads of two federal agencies: Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, and Margaret Hamburg, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.
The town-hall meeting focused on new ways to bring pharmaceutical drugs to the marketplace and brought together university researchers, policy makers, industry representatives and nonprofit organizations.
The greatest potential for improving Americans’ well-being, Sebelius said, is introducing new cures and treatments.
“What we know is that just increasing research budgets is not nearly enough,” she said. “There is too long a road from issuing an NIH grant to the appearance of a blockbuster medicine at the pharmacy, and too many speed bumps and obstacles along the way.”
Despite the technological advances, Sebelius said, the number of drugs approved annually is no greater than the number approved in 1950.
“That is not a great place to be,” she said.
Sebelius highlighted the recent partnership of the NIH and FDA as one step being made to accelerate the process of getting drugs to patients.
The NIH, which gives out many millions of dollars each year for biomedical research, and the FDA, which ensures new drugs are safe, will share information earlier in the drug-discovery process.
The federal government will also work with companies to let them know sooner what regulators are looking for before drugs are approved and to share with the industry why it denied the approval of some drugs.
“There is a lot of dead ends from the past that we can actually share with people,” Sebelius told the press after her speech. “I think the more we can unlock what we already know, share that information and then make it a little clearer along the way so companies don’t feel like they are going to be wasting years and millions of dollars … I think can make it a lot easier.”
Sebelius praised the cancer-fighting work at the Kansas University Cancer Center.
Funding from the NIH is key to the KU Cancer Center’s quest to become designated as a National Cancer Institute. One of the benchmarks, Sebelius said, will be KU’s ability to recruit top researchers.
“The kind collaboration that has taken place here for a long time, I think is one of the key things that will position KU well,” Sebelius said.