Basic research answers fundamental questions about the science of medicine, but pharma companies prioritize efforts that yield commercial products. The latter can’t exist without the former, however, creating a so-called “valley of death” between the two worlds. The concept of translational research seeks to bridge the valley, but it too struggles for funding.
Frustrated that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) funds basic science projects that often go uncommercialized, congress members are trying to turn it into an investment opportunity. H.R. 6421, The Faster Treatments and Cures for Eye Diseases Act, would create a new financial instrument called eye bonds to raise $1 billion for new translational R&D projects over four years. The money would fund research into remedies for degenerative and traumatic causes of vision impairment.
Representatives Pete Sessions (R-Texas), Fred Upton (R-Michigan), Gus Bilirakis (R-Florida) and Sanford Bishop (D-Georgia) presented the bill on July 18.
“We have had federally funded research sitting on the shelf, waiting for private investors to put it into practice, for far too long,” said Congressman Bishop in a press release from his office.
The National Eye Institute, part of the NIH, would evaluate programs eligible for funding, not to exceed $250 million in any year. It is expected that the Congressional Budget Office will “score the cost of the legislation at or near zero” because “taxpayers would be the first to be repaid when private investors recoup their investments.” said the Foundation Fighting Blindness (FFB) in a press release expressing its support of the initiative.
The federal government might even see a financial upside of its own from eye bonds. According to the legislation, the Secretary of Health and Human Services “may negotiate an equity position for the United States Government in the projects to be funded by such eye bond if the Secretary determines that such an equity position will further the interests of the Program and the United States.”
FFB is currently funding 75 research studies on the spectrum of emerging retinal disease therapies, including gene, cell and drug-based treatments. “On behalf of the entire blind and vision impaired community, we are grateful for the actions by these members of Congress and urge others to join as co-sponsors of this important legislation,” said Benjamin Yerza, PhD, chief executive officer of FFB in the organization’s press release.