Sessions, Bishop Introduce ‘Eye-Bonds’ Bill To Unleash Scientific Innovation for Curing Blindness, Other Conditions

Congressman Sanford D. Bishop, Jr. (GA-02) and I, recently introduced the Faster Treatments and Cures for Eye Diseases Act, H.R. 6421, a bipartisan bill to fund translational research and advance treatments and cures for blindness and other causes of severe vision impairment. Joining Congressmen Bishop and I in cosponsoring the bill are Congressmen Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) and Fred Upton (MI-06).

In the U.S. there are more than 4 million adults and almost half-a-million children who are blind or have severely impaired vision. Causes of blindness and vision impairment are extremely diverse, ranging from conditions such as diabetic retinopathy, sickle-cell retinopathy, and age-related macular degeneration to injuries sustained during combat in defense of our nation. The Department of Veterans Affairs estimated in 2016 that over 1 million U.S. veterans are blind or visually impaired.

The Faster Treatments and Cures for Eye Diseases Act establishes a pilot program to create unique financial instruments called “Eye-Bonds.” These bonds would finance packages of loans to projects at small labs, universities, and other centers that can’t secure needed funding to help progress their research on treatments and cures for a wide range conditions and causes of severe vision impairment. Eye-Bonds would also mobilize as much as $1 billion, with virtually no taxpayer risk.

Eye-Bonds would pioneer a new way to bring long-term, low-risk private investors into the biomedical arena that should cost the taxpayer virtually nothing. Translational biomedical research advances the initial, basic research taxpayers fund into the cures and treatments private companies develop and patients need. However, this research often takes years of clinical trials and testing, leaving much of the research funded by the government on the shelf instead of out in the clinic. There are times when the private sector needs a push and there is a proper role for the government to play in making these critical advancements — this is one of those instances.

“I have long been an advocate for those living with a disability, whether it is supporting their access to jobs and a productive and robust quality of life or supporting vital health research, and I know that it is essential that we find new ways to tackle old problems,” said Congressman Bishop. “We have had federally funded research sitting on the shelf, waiting for private investors to put it into practice, for far too long. But that has not happened. The Eye Bonds created by this legislation will give this research the boost it needs to help Americans. It has the potential to deliver new treatments for a range of conditions including macular degeneration, glaucoma, blindness caused by diabetes and sickle cell disease, and many others. And this is just the first step, as similar bonds could be created to support groundbreaking research into a host of other conditions such as cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson's disease.”

“I’ve always been a strong proponent of finding cures and treatments for patients in need, and this bill will help do just that. This bipartisan effort will kick-start funding of innovative biomedical programs to help families and patients in my home state of Michigan, and across the country, suffering from vision impairment and blindness. I’m glad to join with my colleagues to introduce this exciting piece of legislation and look forward to our continued work together,” said Congressman Upton.

“As a visually impaired American, I am very proud to support this initiative because it reflects out-of-the box thinking about new ways to spur the development of cures and treatments that could potentially transform lives. This creative approach to funding innovative treatments to cure blindness holds great promise as a model that can be expanded to support the development of cures for other diseases, which is extremely exciting,” said Congressman Bilirakis. 

Eye-Bonds will help to overcome what’s known as “The Valley of Death.” This refers to research that is never translated into treatments to help humans because of funding issues. This legislation would speed treatments across the valley and to the people who need them. The success of the Eye-Bonds will also provide a way to mobilize federal resources that can then be deployed for many other diseases and disabilities, such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson's disease. Many other countries already directly support translational research; the Eye-Bond approach can advance American competitiveness in this critical sector with very limited taxpayer risk.

The National Eye Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, would be in charge of approving applications for Eye-Bond funding, a provision that ensures selected projects are top quality science and free of conflicts of interests. Taxpayers would be paid off before investors, a unique way to ensure that Eye-Bonds have virtually no cost to the federal deficit.

Eye-Bonds legislation has also received the support of the Foundation Fighting Blindness, National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research, and Blinded Veterans of America.

Learn more about H.R. 6421, Faster Treatments and Cures for Eye Diseases Acthere.


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