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Meng, Hirono, and Fitzpatrick Urge NIH to Devote More Resources to Finding a Cure for Hepatitis B Virus

Nov 29, 2017
Press Release
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Reps. Grace Meng (D-NY), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), and Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) led a bipartisan, bicameral letter urging the head of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to support a sustained research effort to find a cure for the hepatitis B virus. The letter was also signed by U.S. Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Hank Johnson (D-GA). Reps. Meng and Johnson are both co-chairs of the Congressional Hepatitis Caucus.
 
“Each year, up to 40,000 Americans become newly infected with hepatitis B, with thousands dying from this infection,” said Rep. Fitzpatrick. “With the elimination of hepatitis B in sight, we must continue to prioritize funding at the NIH to find more effective treatments and ultimately a cure for this disease.”

“The NIH is not investing enough resources to finding a cure for a virus that chronically affects 2 million people across the country, and that leads to thousands of deaths each year,” said Rep. Meng. “Hepatitis B is also of particular concern to minority communities who are disproportionately impacted by the virus. Despite these alarming statistics, NIH research funding for hepatitis B has declined by 12.5 percent since 2012. Now that a cure for the virus could very well be in reach, it is more important than ever that the NIH devote appropriate resources to stopping the virus once and for all.”   

 
“Lack of public awareness is a major obstacle to curing hepatitis B,” said Senator Hirono. “The millions of Americans living with hepatitis B can’t wait any longer for advancements in treatment. Increased federal funding is essential to curing this devastating disease.”
 
“I am living proof of the progress we’ve made treating hepatitis C,” said Rep. Johnson. “And while we have made great strides in hepatitis treatment for millions of Americans over the past decade, this is not the time to get complacent. One in 10 Asian Americans has been infected with hepatitis B, but 65 percent to 75 percent do not know they have it. We can defeat the silent epidemic of hepatitis B but we need the resources and commitment to finding a cure. Together we can fight and beat hepatitis B but it starts with critical research at NIH.”
 
The letter was sent to NIH Director Francis Collins, and it requests that the NIH strengthen its commitment to finding a cure for hepatitis B. The National Academies of Sciences earlier this year reported that the elimination of hepatitis B in the United States is within reach and that the major obstacle is low public priority. NIH research funding for hepatitis B has declined by 12.5 percent since 2012, and the President has proposed a further decrease of 24.4 percent next year. 
 
Globally, more than 250 million individuals live with chronic hepatitis B, which contributes to around 800,000 deaths each year, primarily due to liver cancer—the second leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide. Nationally, around 2 million individuals are chronically infected with the disease. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are particularly impacted by hepatitis B, accounting for over 50 percent of those living with the virus in the United States.
 
The text of the letter to NIH Director Collins is below and a copy of the correspondence can be found here.   
 
Dear Director Collins,
 
This letter is to request your support for a sustained research effort from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to find a cure for hepatitis B. As you know, the National Academies of Sciences recently reported that the elimination of hepatitis B in the United States is within reach and that the major obstacle is the low public priority given to this goal. Given the recent developments and breakthroughs that have been made related to hepatitis C, we respectfully request that the NIH increase its commitment to this goal and commit to finding a cure for hepatitis B.
 
Earlier this year, the Hepatitis B Foundation convened a virtual workshop to create a consensus blueprint (“Roadmap for a Cure”) to identify the additional research needed to find a cure for hepatitis B, and to improve the outcome of liver cancer. More than 30 of the world’s leading experts were asked to identify the research questions that must be funded and answered to find a cure for hepatitis B. This effort resulted in the preparation of a consensus blueprint document for a cure titled “A Research Agenda for Curing Hepatitis B Virus Infection”. As follow up to the preparation of this blueprint, the Hepatitis B Foundation met with the leadership of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to brief them on the content of the blueprint and to seek their support. This letter requests your continued support for NIAID, NIDDK, and NCI as they consider the targeted calls for research outlined in that blueprint.
 
Nationally, around 2 million individuals are chronically infected with the disease. Globally, more than 250 million individuals live with chronic hepatitis B, which contributes to around 800,000 deaths each year, primarily due to liver cancer—the second leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide. However, despite this widespread epidemic, NIH research funding for hepatitis B has declined by 12.5 percent since 2012, and the President has proposed a further decrease of 24.4 percent next year. The Hepatitis B Foundation, based on the scientific recommendations of the blueprint, has come to the consensus that doubling research funding for hepatitis B every year for six years would lead to better treatments and a cure—such an investment in public health surely seems worthwhile.
 
We appreciate your consideration of this important issue, and look forward to working with you as we continue this fight to combat hepatitis B through appropriate investments that will lead to more effective treatments for the disease and eventually cures.
 
Sincerely,
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