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The Fresno Bee: Opinion: Policy decisions must promote hope to patients in need
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By R. SWAMY VENUTURUPALLI | Op-Ed in The Fresno Bee
June 9, 2016

Highlights:

  • Not everyone in California has access to the new innovations in health care
  • Our challenge is to take this research and make sure it is applied to the care of the widest swath of patients suffering from these conditions
  • California lawmakers must create public policies that incentivize research and innovation

This is an exciting time to be in the medical profession. New innovations in medicine, medical procedures and therapies are improving and extending lives, and keeping people healthier for longer.

Unfortunately, not everyone has access to these new innovations in care. Harnessing the resources developed from scientific advancement is a duty that all citizens and policy makers should take seriously.

Diseases like HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C, previously debilitating or fatal, can now be cured or managed as chronic conditions. Survival rates for childhood cancers such as acute lymphoblastic leukemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma have improved dramatically. All thanks to the development of new miracle medicines and treatments.

In my particular field of autoimmune disorders including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, myositis, vasculitis, etc., the last several decades have expanded our understanding of the genetic and molecular causes of autoimmune diseases. More importantly, these discoveries have been translated into medicines, the so-called, “biologics revolution.”

For example, there are more than 10 U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved biologic therapies to manage rheumatoid arthritis, a progressively debilitating disease in the past.

Our challenge now is to take this research and make sure it is applied to the care of the widest swath of patients suffering from these conditions. This will mean increased patient education and requires that we do everything we can in the area of health care policy to speed up, or at the very least, not slow down the application of this new, exciting research.

We must not only raise awareness among patients about the new therapies that may be available and new research underway, but also raise awareness among policy makers and the public at large about lupus, and the new ways we are developing to fight this deadly disease.

Since 2000, the FDA has approved more than 500 new medicines to help patients live longer, healthier lives. Given such important medical breakthroughs we have seen over the last several years, and the promise of more to come, it is essential that we do not establish shortsighted policies that threaten to stifle life sciences research, investment and innovation in California.

Lawmakers in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., should prioritize policies that bolster research and protect patient access to needed medicines and medical care.

More importantly, policy makers and medical professionals must make sure that, above all, we prioritize the needs of patients. As a physician, I believe that every case is unique. From my own experience treating lupus and other autoimmune diseases, I’ve learned that how lupus affects one person is vastly different than how it affects another.

It has been my endeavor to understand each patient and guide his or her particular journey of healing, which is the “art” of medicine. Having access to all the medicines that can help in the most serious cases allows a physician like me to confidently care for all the patients suffering from these serious illnesses.

To realize the fruits of the “biologics revolution” for patients, it is now imperative that lawmakers create public policies that incentivize research and innovation, and ensure that these medicines are available to everyone who needs them.

Dr. R. Swamy Venuturupalli, M.D., F.A.C.R., is a diplomate for the American Board of Internal Medicine and Rheumatology; former clinical chief, Division of Rheumatology at Cedars Sinai Medical Center; and associate clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Read the op-ed at The Fresno Bee.