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NIH Director Dr. Elias Zerhouni Testifies on Health Issues and Opportunities at the March 5 House LHHS Appropriations Subcommittee Hearing

Legislative Update
March 6, 2008

National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Elias Zerhiouni, M.D.
National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Elias Zerhouni, M.D.

Yesterday, the House Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (LHHS) Appropriations Subcommittee held a hearing on the Fiscal Year (FY) 2009 budget entitled Health Issues and Opportunities. The panel that testified included representatives of key agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), such as National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Elias Zerhouni, M.D.; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Julie Gerberding, M.D., M.P.H.; Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Administrator Terry Cline, Ph.D.; and Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) Director Carolyn Clancy, M.D.

Unlike previous year’s testimony that involved a comprehensive multimedia presentation, Dr. Zerhouni and the panelists provided a five–minute verbal summary of their written testimony and then engaged in discussion with Subcommittee members in response to questions. Building upon his past testimony, Dr. Zerhouni: emphasized the current focus on chronic disease diagnosis, treatment, and prevention; provided examples of how federally funded research at the NIH is saving lives and improving the quality of life; reiterated that the new paradigm for research and clinical practice in the 21st century is one of "P4 Medicine" that involves preemption, prediction, personalized diagnosis and treatment, and participation of all sectors within healthcare; and the collaborative nature of NIH research across the NIH Institutes and with other key DHHS agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), CDC, and AHRQ. Regarding the latter, Dr. Zerhouni specifically mentioned the National Eye Institute’s (NEI) Comparison of AMD Treatments Trial (CATT), which is a comparative effectiveness study of the two drugs (Avastin and Lucentis) that are used to block growth of abnormal blood vessels in patients with the "wet" form of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). He noted that NEI was collaborating with CMS since the results could guide treatment and reduce costs to the Medicare program.

Although Dr. Zerhouni acknowledged the power of imaging technologies, specifically Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT), he did not specifically mention it with respect to visual imaging. The previous week, the Alliance for Eye and Vision Research (AEVR) conducted a Congressional briefing on how OCT is revolutionizing the diagnosis and treatment of eye disease.

Although Dr. Zerhouni’s testimony supported the President’s proposed FY2009 NIH programmatic budget funding of $29.5 billion, Subcommittee members from both sides of the aisle questioned each of the panelists as to their ability to fully meet all of the challenges set forth in their testimony. Dr. Zerhouni’s response reiterated the importance of collaboration, citing the NIH “common fund” (established in the NIH Reform Act of 2006) as a primary route through which basic and applied science could converge to meet research goals.