Azar: Prescription costs, opioids, cancer research to remain top priorities in year ahead

Addressing employees as part of what was pegged as a "State of the Department" address, Azar announced the release of a report listing accomplishments of the administration in 2018 on Friday. (HHS)

WASHINGTON—Disease-specific efforts targeting cancer research and efforts to curb HIV in the U.S. will be among the priorities for the Department of Health and Human Services in the year ahead, Secretary Alex Azar said in a speech on Friday.

Addressing employees as part of what was pegged as a "State of the Department" address, Azar announced the release of a report listing accomplishments of the administration in 2018, focusing in priorities such as addressing high prescription drug prices and the opioid crisis that will continue on in 2019.

"We’re going to take major steps in transforming our health system to pay for value, rolling out new models that empower patients and pay for outcomes," Azar told the crowd, which included a collection of various media outlets and was livestreamed online.

RELATED: Azar challenges Congress to expand drug rebate reform to commercial market 

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But expanding his focus from many of the speeches he typically delivers to external healthcare groups, he also addressed top scientific efforts including the cancer moonshot.

"We will continue to be vigilant about infectious disease threats abroad, including addressing a massive humanitarian crisis in Venezuela where HHS has already led efforts to gather international support," he said. "We’ll be acting on public health at home which means redoubling our efforts on the opioid crisis and beginning to implement the president’s plan on the HIV epidemic, but also focusing on vaccine-preventable diseases like measles."

Topics he touched on included:  

The National Institutes of Health and its work on cancer research: "In 2018, as part of the Cancer Moonshot, we invested an additional $300 million to accelerate cancer research," Azar said. "This built on longstanding investments using real discoveries." 

He also pointed to a National Cancer Institute National Childhood Cancer Initiative announced by President Donald Trump during his State of the Union earlier this month. They are using that initiative "to gather as much data as we can to learn from the experience of every child who suffers from cancer," Azar said. 

He said the agency launched the most ambition research efforts in American history last year with the "All of Us" research program—originally created as part of the Cancer Moonshot—which seeks to enroll 1 million volunteers in a national genomic database aimed at accelerating personalized medicine. There are 186,000 individual signed up so far. 

"We hope 'All of Us' will transform the research landscape and we're also hoping to maximize the utility of the data we've already got," Azar said.

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