Policymakers Must Embolden Innovation to Stamp Out Cancer

As an advocate for small businesses and entrepreneurs, I spend a lot of time talking about the importance of fostering American innovation. As a 10-year cancer survivor, I believe the same principle of promoting innovation will absolutely save many more lives.

We are closer than ever to curing cancer thanks to America’s scientists, medical professionals and biopharmaceutical entrepreneurs. Every day, medical innovation and breakthroughs are cracking the code to beating cancer. One of the most exciting therapies available is an immunotherapy called chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy, or CAR-T therapy.

The Trump administration is currently facing a decision about whether to ensure Medicare beneficiaries can access this innovative therapy. The administration should continue its strong record on medical innovation by supporting CAR-T access.

CAR-T cancer therapies are widely considered a next-wave cancer treatment that will bring hope for a cure. The therapy works by re-engineering a patients’ own blood cells to fight off their cancer. More and more doctors around the country are performing CAR-T, which has produced largely positive outcomes for patients.

However, seniors with cancer may face significant roadblocks to accessing this innovative treatment. Despite the promising nature of the therapy, the doctor reimbursement process for CAR-T Medicare patients is broken, therefore threatening patients’ access to care.

Simply put, Medicare is not properly reimbursing doctors at certain hospitals performing CAR-T. This creates a real disparity between the number of urban and rural seniors who are able to access this treatment.

In some cases, seniors in rural areas may be forced to travel to larger, more urban hospitals to receive care. Some may even be forced to go out of state. This disparity means we may be unintentionally creating an environment in which a life-saving treatment is unattainable for certain Americans, especially those in rural areas.

The issue is a critical one for U.S. innovation, as well. We shouldn’t hinder the development of future innovation by failing to properly reimburse providers administering these promising treatments.

If we fail to pursue therapies that are working — like CAR-T — we could lose our edge and momentum in the race to cure cancer. Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has stressed he is “extremely worried” about this threat to innovation.

Furthermore, other countries such as China are aggressively pursuing CAR-T therapy. It’s been reported that Chinese scientists and biotech firms are working to develop faster and cheaper versions of CAR-T therapies. There’s no doubt that American scientists and medical professionals are the best in the world, but the U.S. government needs to provide certainty and a greenlight to support this promising innovation, as scientists and doctors are still learning about and exploring CAR-T’s possibilities and potential.

The Trump administration has a strong record on supporting both CAR-T innovation and seniors’ access to cancer care. Now it must find a way to implement a long-term solution to ensure that providers are properly reimbursed for treating CAR-T patient Medicare beneficiaries. In a testament to how important this issue is, doctor, patient and industry groups have all unified to express support for finally implementing a long-term solution.

Due to innovative drug therapies and treatments, cancer deaths dropped 29 percent from 1991 to 2017. Curing cancer will continue to take a coordinated effort between doctors, scientists and policymakers alike. If we continue to promote and directly support an innovative culture and mindset, we will cure cancer more quickly and save many more lives along the way.


Karen Kerrigan is the president and CEO of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council.

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