Isabel Odriozola, Flickr

The 21st Century Cures Act may be bound for a House vote on Wednesday this week, but conflicts of opinion between Republicans and Democrats may yet derail the legislation. Speaking on Monday, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren refused to support the bill, which would speed development of new drugs and medical devices, on the grounds that it had been “hijacked” by the pharmaceutical industry.

Senator Warren argued that by including additional funding for the NIH, Republican lawmakers seeking to extort Democrats. “I cannot vote for this bill,’’ she said on the Senate floor. “I will fight it because I know the difference between compromise and extortion.”

The current deal between House and Senate leaders would give $1 billion to tackle the opioid crisis, plus $4.8 billion for continuing three key Obama administration research programs over the next three years – the Cancer Moonshot, the Precision Medicine Initiative, and the BRAIN Initiative. 

But Warren argued that funding for the NIH amounted to only a “fig leaf”. “And most of that fig leaf isn’t even real,” Warren said. “Most of the money won’t really be there unless future Congresses pass future bills in future years to spend those dollars.”

21st Century Cures has not been without controversy during its development. Republicans say that the bill will promote medical innovation and bring much needed treatment to patients faster. Patient groups have strongly advocated and campaigned for the legislation, but more consumer-focused groups have questioned whether the provisions of the bill are more beneficial to patients, or to the drug and device companies looking to slash red tape and ease the path to FDA approval for their products.