The Senate must act to reauthorize cell transplantation program

Earlier this week, the House passed the TRANSPLANT Act, a bill Rep. Doris MatsuiDoris Okada MatsuiDemocratic lawmaker calls telehealth expansion the ‘silver lining’ of pandemic The Hill’s 12:30 Report: Delegates stage state-centric videos for the roll call Overnight Health Care: Obama leans into Trump criticism on coronavirus | CDC gives 3-month window for COVID-19 immunity MORE (D-Calif.) and I sponsored. It reauthorizes the C.W. Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program and the National Cord Blood Inventory, which will help tens of thousands of Americans of all ages who suffer with diseases like blood cancer, sickle cell anemia, inherited metabolic or immune system disorders and 70 otherwise fatal blood disorders. Every three minutes someone is diagnosed with a blood cancer throughout the nation. This is an especially important issue for seniors, as older Americans are the fastest growing age group of patients needing marrow transplants.

The mission of the national registry is to match patients and donors and to ensure the timely transportation of lifesaving cellular products throughout the United States and around the world. Over the past 30 years, more than 100,000 lifesaving and life-extending transplants have been facilitated through the national registry. Today, more than 22 million volunteers in the national registry are willing to answer the call to save a life. In partnership with other registries around the world, the program has access to more than 35 million donors. The National Marrow Donor Program(NMDP)/Be The Match registry is doing incredible work despite unprecedented challenges. While facing travel restrictions and other pandemic-related logistical dilemmas, this partnership has delivered a second chance at life to more patients than ever before. Surprisingly, the program completed more transplants in June of 2020 than in any single month in the program’s history and has conducted more than 3,000 transplants over the first six months of the public health emergency. This was only made possible by having the status of a federally-authorized program that is recognized by other federal, state and local agencies and foreign governments. Additionally, a CDC waiver allowed international bone marrow couriers to deliver cellular products from abroad to waiting U.S. patients, despite the European pandemic travel restriction, ensuring that more than 350 awaiting U.S. patients got their second chance at life.

Since its inception, the CW Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program has always enjoyed broad bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress because the donations made through this program literally save lives. The program has been reauthorized by Congress every five years, and is currently set to expire unless urgent action is taken. It is absolutely imperative that the House and Senate act swiftly and in unison to ensure that this critical life-saving work continues. Should the program’s authorization lapse at the end of September, there is concern that the program may not be able to operate as efficiently during the continuing public health emergency. My colleagues and I in the House recognize that this federal program provides critical support in the advancement of research for better treatments and the infrastructure necessary to match volunteer unrelated donors with patients, which is why we unanimously passed the TRANSPLANT Act this week. I am proud to help lead the effort and will not rest until the vital reauthorization of this lifesaving program is complete. I urge my Senate colleagues to take swift action, as we must ensure patients who are struggling to find a cure have continued access to these improved treatments and therapies.

Gus Bilirakis represents Florida’s 12th District.

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