When I think of childhood, I think of my four children running around the house many years ago, and now the sounds of my 12 grandchildren playing with their cousins. I think of the countless hours spent at basketball games and dance recitals.
But for thousands of children in America, childhood is interrupted by hospital stays, doctors and cancer treatment.
Each year, 15,780 children in America are diagnosed with cancer, the leading cause of death by disease for children older than infancy in the United States.
Many people in Augusta may know the story of Brennan Simkins, who was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer at the age of seven. Brennan was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia, the most deadly form of childhood leukemia. With less than a 1 percent chance of survival, Brennan underwent four bone marrow transplants in 18 months and relapsed three times.
Unfortunately, heartbreaking stories like Brennan’s are far too familiar for many Americans. That’s why I’m proud to be a cosponsor of H.R. 1231, the Research to Accelerate Cures and Equity (RACE) for Children Act.
There are almost 900 adult cancer drugs in development right now, but only a handful for children. This bill will change that by updating the Pediatric Research Equity Act (PREA).
When PREA became law almost 15 years ago, cancer drugs were developed to fight specific types of cancers. As you can imagine, adults do not develop pediatric cancers, creating a barrier to childhood cancer breakthroughs. Now, 15 years later and with significant advancements in cancer research, the drugs are developed by “molecular targeting.” This means that instead of targeting specific types of cancers such as breast or lung cancer, the drugs are developed by targeting genes and proteins common across different types of adult and pediatric drugs.
With no changes in the last 15 years, clearly the law has not kept up with advancements, inadvertently stifling childhood cancer research and treatment.
Once the RACE for Children Act is signed into law, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will require drug companies to investigate whether or not the drug they are developing can also be used in pediatric treatment. For children like Brennan, this can mean life or death. It means their doctors are no longer prescribing “off-label” treatments with adult cancer drugs. It means the drugs will have accurate labeling for pediatric use, allowing doctors to know the proper dosage and safety information.
It means giving our nation’s children a fighting chance to live to their fullest, God given potential.
Thankfully, Brennan overcame the odds and has been in remission since 2011, but that is not the case for all children diagnosed with cancer.
Brennan’s story truly hits close to home for me, and especially my wife Robin. The year I ran for Congress, Robin retired from her years as a piano instructor; however she continues to teach Brennan whenever she is home in Augusta. It has been a true joy to watch him progress with his music and an honor to get to know Brennan; I am blessed to be able to consider him a friend.
At only 15 years old, Brennan is able to lead by example, enriching so many lives with his positive attitude. It has been a great joy to see the fine young man he has become.
The term “commonsense legislation” is probably overused by many members of Congress, including myself. But if there was ever a time to classify a bill as commonsense, it is the RACE for Children Act. I strongly support this legislation because our children and grandchildren possess an unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness bestowed by their Creator.
This past week the House of Representatives included the RACE for Children Act in a larger piece of legislation, the FDA Reauthorization Act of 2017, and guess what: This bill passed unanimously in the House!
I am so proud we were able to garner overwhelming bipartisan support and include the RACE for Children Act in must-pass legislation. Now it is time for our senators to do their part to fight for a world without childhood cancer.
Rep. Rick Allen represents the 12th Congressional District of Georgia.