Obama signs $6.3 billion bill for cancer research, drug treatment

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama signed a $6.3 billion bill Tuesday to boost spending for medical research on cancer and other diseases as well as address the country's mental health crisis and opioid epidemic.

The 21st Century Cures Act, which has a part of its legislation named in honor of Vice President Joe Biden's son Beau Biden, who died last year of brain cancer, came in the waning days of the Congress.

"The Cures Act invests in a breakthrough effort that we've been calling the 'vice president's cancer moonshot.' And I think the Senate came up with a better name when they named it after Beau Biden," Obama said in remarks at the White House.

The bill was approved in the Senate by a 94-5 vote last week after passing the House.

The bipartisan measure provides $4.8 billion for the National Institutes for Health for medical research, $500 million for the Food and Drug Administration to help speed the approval of drugs, $1 billion in grants for states to battle the opioid crisis and includes provisions to address mental health issues.

"This historic vote is one of the rare moments in Congress where members can say with confidence their vote to pass these reforms will indeed save lives. We are ending the era of stigma surrounding mental illness and focusing on delivering treatment before tragedy," said Sen. Chris Murphy, of Connecticut, who worked on the mental health provisions in the bill.

Some liberal senators, like Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, complained the bill had too much in it for the pharmaceutical industry. But their complaints didn't resonate with most of their colleagues who saw the bill as carefully negotiated and significant because it addressed several lingering medical research problems.

The bill also cuts red tape for drug and medical device approval.

The vote was a feel-good sendoff off for the GOP-led Congress and Obama and Biden, who will leave the White House in a few weeks.