WASHINGTON, D.C. — Rep. Chris Smith praised the National Institutes of Health's announcement last week to implement a new, expansive research strategy to combat Lyme disease.
Components of the plan released on October 10 include expanding knowledge of tick-borne diseases; developing rapid diagnostic testing; identifying treatment success and human biomarkers of persistent symptoms; developing new treatments; and evaluating prevention approaches such as vaccines.
Smith (R-4th District), founder and co-chair of the Congressional Lyme Disease Caucus, said the NIH plan reads like the text of several legislative measures that he has written over the years to push the federal government to establish a responsive, comprehensive, scientific strategy to help those gravely ill from Lyme and other tick-borne diseases.
“After lagging for decades, NIH is all in for researching Lyme and other tick-borne diseases to better diagnose and treat those suffering from this horrific disease,” said Smith, who has led the efforts to address Lyme disease efforts for more than 27 years. “This is great news for patients and Lyme-literate doctors who will now have serious, federal partners working aggressively to improve strategies for the detection, treatment, and one day, prevention of Lyme.”
Smith is the author of the pending TICK Act (HR 3073), that would develop a whole-of-government national strategy to prevent and treat Lyme and other vector-borne diseases. Smith’s legislation would create a new Office of Oversight and Coordination for Vector-borne Disease in the Department of Health and Human Services, coordinating strategies across the entire federal government — including the NIH, and also the Departments of Defense, Agriculture, Interior, Homeland Security and the Environmental Protection Agency.
In releasing its Strategic Plan for Tickborne Disease Research, the NIH said the effort was inspired in part by the 2018 Report to Congress by the HHS Tickborne Diseases Working Group. Smith spearheaded the legislation that created the working group, which became a provision of the 21st Century Cures Act.
“We had very high expectations that once we could establish a federal advisory commission or working group made up of Lyme-literate physicians, researchers and patients — we would have the data to move the federal agencies in the right direction,” Smith said.
“We are greatly encouraged that the NIH has taken a key recommendation of the 2018 Working Group Report to develop a plan,” said Pat Smith (no relation), president of the Lyme Disease Association and an appointee on the federal working group. “The plan incorporates what Lyme disease patients and advocates have been pushing for years. It will make a difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of patients who have been greatly debilitated by this disease.”
The congressman, whose district includes Belmar and Lake Como, said he will continue to fight for a larger coordinated effort across several agencies, but added that “the NIH is among the most important federal agencies for fighting Lyme and this is a giant step in the right direction.”