‘Eye Bonds’ Legislation to Fund Research, Treatments for Eye Conditions

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WASHINGTON, D.C.—Congressman Sanford D. Bishop, Jr. (GA-02) and Congressman Pete Sessions (TX-32) were joined by congressman Fred Upton (MI-06) and congressman Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) in introducing groundbreaking “Eye Bonds” legislation, the Faster Treatments and Cures for Eye Diseases Act (H.R. 6421), to fund translational research and advance treatments and cures for blindness and other eye conditions. The legislation was introduced on July 18. The Faster Treatments and Cures for Eye Diseases Act would establish a pilot program to create unique financial instruments called Eye Bonds. These bonds would finance packages of loans to projects at small labs, universities and other centers. They have the potential to mobilize as much as $1 billion in research funding by incentivizing private investment in conjunction with public research dollars which would receive repayment priority.

“I have long been an advocate for those living with a disability, whether it is supporting their access to jobs and a productive and robust quality of life or supporting vital health research, and I know that it is essential that we find new ways to tackle old problems,” said congressman Bishop. “We have had federally funded research sitting on the shelf, waiting for private investors to put it into practice, for far too long. The Eye Bonds created by the Faster Treatments and Cures for Eye Diseases Act will give health research the boost it needs to help Americans. These bonds will fund research that has the potential to deliver new treatments for a range of conditions including macular degeneration, glaucoma, blindness caused by diabetes and sickle cell disease, and many others. And this is just the first step, as similar bonds could be created to support groundbreaking research into a host of other conditions such as cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson's disease.”

“Eye Bonds would pioneer a new way to bring long-term, low-risk private investors into the biomedical arena that should cost the taxpayer virtually nothing,” said congressman Sessions. “Translational biomedical research advances the initial, basic research taxpayers fund into the cures and treatments private companies develop and patients need.”

Congressman Upton added,“ This bipartisan effort will kick-start funding of innovative biomedical programs to help families and patients in my home state of Michigan, and across the country, suffering from vision impairment and blindness. I’m glad to join with my colleagues to introduce this exciting piece of legislation and look forward to our continued work together.”

“As a visually impaired American, I am very proud to support this initiative because it reflects out-of-the box thinking about new ways to spur the development of cures and treatments that could potentially transform lives," said congressman Bilirakis. "This creative approach to funding innovative treatments to cure blindness holds great promise as a model that can be expanded to support the development of cures for other diseases, which is extremely exciting.”

To date, Eye Bonds legislation has received the support of the Foundation Fighting Blindness (FFB), National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research, and Blinded Veterans Association.

“On behalf of the entire blind and vision impaired community, we are grateful for the actions by these members of Congress and urge others to join as co-sponsors of this important legislation,” said Benjamin Yerxa, PhD, CEO of FFB. There is no doubt that vision-saving and vision-restoring research sitting on shelves needs to be unleashed so patients can benefit. We are confident that Eye Bonds will work,” says Benjamin Yerxa, PhD, chief executive officer. “We especially want to thank Karen and Basil Petrou, longtime FFB supporters and leaders, for developing the Eye Bonds concept and the financial details that make the legislation so beneficial and safe for taxpayers.”

In the U.S. there are more than 4 million adults and almost half-a-million children who are blind or have severely impaired vision.

The Faster Treatments and Cures for Eye Diseases Act would implement numerous safeguards to ensure taxpayers’ interests are protected and to quickly reimburse taxpayers for the small initial outlays to start the project, said an announcement from Congressman Bishop’s office. The pilot program would require that the National Eye Institute (NEI), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), select eligible projects so that only legitimate, viable projects would receive funding. Furthermore, taxpayers are repaid first—not last—as researchers advance treatments and repay their obligations. The legislation also requires controls at each stage of this pilot program, which would follow rules from the Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Treasury to maximize taxpayer protections, speed cures, and prevent conflicts of interest.