Dr. Francis Collins Staying on as NIH Director–For Now & Other Updates

According to multiple news outlets including STATNews Dr. Francis Collins’s letter of resignation was returned and he is being held over as NIH director. According to STATNews, “It is not yet known whether (President) Trump will permanently reappoint Collins to be his NIH director for his full term.”

In other updates, Dr. Tom Frieden stepped down as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director last week and deputy director Dr. Anne Schuchat will serve as acting director. It is not yet clear who President Trump will nominate to become the director of CDC.

AADR will be monitoring these developments closely and update the blog accordingly.

 

AADR Supports the Prevention and Public Health Fund

Last week, AADR voiced strong support for the Prevention and Public Health Fund (PPHF) by joining 333 organization in a letter warning Congress of the dire consequences of repealing PPHF. Currently, more than 12 percent of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) budget is supplied through the Prevention Fund investments.  This includes funding for the Preventive Health and Health Services Block Grant which provides nearly $4 million for state oral health programs. In Wisconsin, for example, 7 agencies implemented evidenced based interventions including oral health risk assessments, fluoride sealants, dental hygienist services for exams, dental cleanings and fluoride varnishes and targeting children with no dental insurance or dental providers. Additionally, the Prevention Fund is also utilized for tobacco prevention programs including the successful Tips From Former Smokers educational campaign. With the return of sequestration next year and without a corresponding increase in the allocation for the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriation bill repeal of PPHF would leave an enormous funding gap, creating catastrophic consequences for research, data, public health and other programs designed to improve the health of our nation. AADR looks forward to working with Congress in the upcoming months to protect and promote the Prevention and Public Health Fund because it continues to be a vital investment for many initiatives at CDC.

AADR submits comments on AHRQ key questions for chronic pain treatment

AADR submitted comments to the Effective Health Care (EHC) program of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) regarding key questions for the research topic, “Noninvasive, Nonpharmacological Treatment of Chronic Pain”. The research topic, which will explore alternative treatments to chronic pain conditions, appears to be in response to the opioid epidemic. Key questions are used to guide and focus researchers as they draft reports. The five current key questions address the following chronic pain conditions: low back pain, neck pain, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, and headache.

AADR submitted comments encouraging researchers to include chronic orofacial pain as a key question. Please see the links below for AHRQ’s request for comments and AADR’s response. AADR will monitor and update the blog with any changes to the key questions.

Click here to view AHRQ’s key questions and request for comments.

Click here to view AADR’s response.

Congress Approves Short-Term Funding Bill Averting Govt. Shutdown

With minutes to spare, Congress approved a short-term continuing resolution (CR) averting a government shutdown. This legislation funds the federal government through April 28, 2017 at a 0.19% funding level lower than fiscal year 2016. The CR initially sailed through the House of Representatives by a 326-96 vote; however the bill stalled in the Senate due to concerns regarding health benefits for retired coal mine workers. The Senate ultimately approved the bill by a 63-36 vote.

The CR also contains some funding increases for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) which was made possible by the 21st Century Cures Act. The additional funding listed below will be transferred to the Director of NIH for the following initiatives:

  • $40 million for the Precision Medicine Initiative;
  • $10 million for the BRAIN Initiative;
  • $300 million for cancer research; and
  • $2 million for clinical research to further the field of regenerative medicine (with the requirement of a $1 non-Federal match for every $1 of Federal funds).

What is next? January 3, 2017 marks the beginning of the 115th Congress where they will have to finish work on fiscal year 2017 and start to draft legislation to fund the federal government for fiscal year 2018 at the same time.

AADR will work to encourage Congress to provide the highest allocations possible for NIH in FY17 and FY18.

Surgeon General report warns of dangers of e-cig use among youth

This morning, Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy released a 298-page report on the use of e-cigarettes among young adults. Among the major findings of the report are:

  • e-cigarettes are now the most commonly used tobacco product among youth
  • youth who use e-cigarettes are more likely to use traditional tobacco products such as combustible cigarettes
  • nicotine in these products is addictive and may affect the developing brains of young people and increase their likelihood of becoming addicted to other drugs
  • chemicals in e-cigarette liquids may be harmful
  • and marketing and product development of e-cigarettes target young people.

The report advocates for policies aimed at restricting youth access to e-cigarettes, educational campaigns directed at young people, and inclusion of e-cigarettes in smoke-free policies.

This report is especially timely after the deeming rule issued earlier this year by the Food and Drug Administration giving itself authority to regulate electronic tobacco products along with more traditional tobacco products. This rule has been challenged by e-cigarette advocates.

The release of the report was accompanied by a new website where users can find facts about e-cigarettes as well as resources to educate and discourage use among young people.

Congress Overwhelmingly Approves the 21st Century Cures Act

Today, the Senate by a vote of 94-5 and last week the House of Representatives by a vote of 392-26 overwhelmingly approved the 21st Century Cures Act. Importantly, this legislation reauthorizes the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for three years and creates a 10 year $4.8 billion NIH Innovation Account. The NIH Innovation Account will provide targeted funding for the Precision Medicine Initiative, cancer research, BRAIN and regenerative medicine. This legislation also promotes initiatives designed to support the next generation of researchers; increases the loan repayment program; reduces administrative burdens on scientists and calls for recommendations on the rigor and reproducibility of science.

AADR sent a letter  expressing our support for the NIH provisions in the bill and AADR members sent nearly 100 email messages to members of Congress. We firmly believe this legislation is an important step to ensure stability for the biomedical enterprise during the upcoming three years.

President Obama is expected to sign this bill into law.

For additional information about the bill:

  • Click here to read a summary by the Energy and Commerce Committee.
  • Click here to read the Energy and Commerce Committee press release.

FDA approves drug for chemotherapy-resistant head and neck cancers

According to a press release from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the Food and Drug Administration has approved nivolumab for use in  head and neck squamous cell cancers that are resistant to platinum-based chemotherapy. Head and neck cancers include oral and pharyngeal cancers, among others. According to the Bristol-Meyers Squibb study, patients treated with nivolumab lived longer and fewer patients experienced a decline in quality of life than patients treated with standard chemotherapy.

Cancer cells evade death by the immune system by turning off cytotoxic, or cell-killing, T-cells. Cancer cells display programmed death ligands (PD-Ls) on their cell surface that bind to a protein called PD-1 on the surface of T-cells. This interaction turns off the T-cell and allows the cancer cell to survive. Nivolumab, an antibody immune-checkpoint inhibitor, binds to PD-1 and inhibits this interaction, allowing T-cells to kill cancer cells and shrink the tumor.

Application Period Open for the Student Advocate of the Year Award

The application period is open for The Student Advocate of the Year Award. This award allows AADR, the NSRG and the AADR Government Affairs Committee to recognize a student for outstanding contributions in advocacy for oral health research. The recipient will receive travel and a one night hotel accommodation for participation in the 2017 February 28, 2017 AADR and Friends of National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (FNIDCR) Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill program. Students may nominate him/herself or be nominated by another AADR member.

To apply, visit the AADR website, complete the application form and brief essay questions by January 13, 2017.

Questions about this award may be directed to AADR Director of Government Affairs Carolyn Mullen at cmullen@aadr.org.

Nationwide injunction issued against overtime rule; postdoc salary raises in jeopardy

A Texas judge has issued a nationwide injunction against the Department of Labor’s new Fair Labor and Standards Act rule that was expected to make millions of Americans eligible for overtime pay. Announced in May, the overtime rule would have raised the minimum salary for receiving overtime pay from $23, 660 to $47,476. The rule was intended to either raise wages or allow employees to spend more time with their families by working fewer hours. The overtime rule was of particular interest to postdocs, who anticipated a salary increase, and was supported by National Institutes of Health (NIH) director, Dr. Francis Collins. AADR reported on the rule when it was finalized in an earlier blog post.

Over 20 states and 50 business organizations opposed the rule and filed for a preliminary injunction. On Tuesday, district court Judge Amos Mazzant ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. Judge Mazzant ruled that the overtime rule was illegal because the original intent of Congress in making exemptions to the overtime rule was based upon the duties of the employee – the so-called executive, administrative, and professional, or EAP, exemption for “white collar” work – and not upon the employee’s salary. The court ruled that by raising the salary threshold, the Department of Labor made salary the primary criteria for exemption rather than the employee’s duties, violated the original intent of Congress, and thus overstepped its authority. The plaintiffs were able to sufficiently demonstrate that they would incur significant costs that they would be unable to recoup if the rule was implemented on December 1. Therefore, Judge Mazzant issued a preliminary injunction that prevents the rule from going into force until the validity of the rule can be decided in a future court case.

The Department of Labor released the following statement expressing its disagreement with the ruling:

“We strongly disagree with the decision by the court, which has the effect of delaying a fair day’s pay for a long day’s work for millions of hardworking Americans. The department’s overtime rule is the result of a comprehensive, inclusive rulemaking process, and we remain confident in the legality of all aspects of the rule. We are currently considering all of our legal options.” (Source: NPR.org)

Dr. Gary McDowell, executive director of advocacy group Future of Research, is tracking how universities are responding to the new overtime rule. Some universities are choosing to delay plans to increase postdoc salaries while others are forging ahead.

The NIH, which previously released a notice of adjustment to postdoc salaries in compliance with the overtime rule, will push forward with raising salaries in spite of the injunction.

Please continue to follow AADR as this story continues to develop.

AADR Partners with Research!America on Public Health Thank You Day!

AADR is proud to partner with Research!America as part of the Public Health Thank You Day to recognize the tireless work of public health professionals who translate important research findings into practice to improve the oral health of the nation. We would like to thank the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Division of Oral Health; state, county and local health departments and public health dentists for their work to reduce disparities, expand access to effective prevention programs and educate the public about the value of water fluoridation and dental sealants.

One of the greatest public health achievements of all time is water fluoridation and the resulting dramatic decline in dental caries (tooth decay or cavities). Today fluoridation of the water supplies is one of the most effective and least expensive measures to prevent tooth decay, which has greatly improved the oral health of Americans. According to CDC for communities of more than 20,000 people where it costs about 50 cents per person to fluoridate the water, every $1 invested in this preventive measure yields approximately $38 in savings in dental treatments.

Additionally, pit and fissure dental sealants are polymeric materials that are applied to the occlusal surfaces of teeth, which do not benefit from the caries-preventive effects of fluoride to the same extent as smooth surfaces. Dental caries, one of the most common diseases of childhood, occurs predominantly as carious lesions in pits and fissures of teeth. A large percentage of occlusal surfaces can remain caries-free for up to ten years or more after a single application of a sealant. There is strong evidence supporting the effectiveness of sealants for the prevention of dental caries. Furthermore, studies show that incipient carious lesions that remain sealed do not progress.  According to the CDC, while the overall number of children with sealants has increased over time, low-income children are 20% less likely to have them and two times more likely to have untreated cavities than higher –income children. Therefore, it is vitally important to continue to increase the utilization of dental sealants by practitioners.

While today we celebrate these advances and thank many public health champions, there is still much work to be done. AADR remains firmly committed to supporting research, data, public health programs and other initiatives to improve the oral health for all Americans.