Trump's 'right-to-try' push gains momentum, spurs questions

By Susan McFarland  |  Feb. 1, 2018 at 9:27 AM
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Feb. 1 (UPI) -- During the State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Donald Trump urged Congress to pass a new law allowing terminally ill patients the right to try experimental, unapproved drugs for treatment -- a call that's picking up momentum, and drawing warnings.

In his address, Trump said patients with terminal conditions should have the right to try experimental treatments that could potentially save their lives.

"People who are terminally ill should not have to go from country to country to seek a cure. I want to give them a chance right here at home," he said. "It's time for Congress to give these wonderful, incredible Americans the 'right to try.'"

Right now, 38 states have so-called "right-to-try" laws. The Senate passed a bill last summer that would grant some protections to drug makers, but the House has yet to act on the proposal.

Many have praised Trump's call for action on the issue, while some experts warn that such a move might actually harm dying patients.

Arthur Caplan, medical ethics director at New York University's Langone Medical Center, said pushing the bill through the federal level will not change anything -- and will not compel any company to give away their drug.

Holly Fernandez Lynch, assistant professor of medical ethics at the University of Pennsylvania, said drug makers fear giving patients access to experimental drugs because limited data is available during the early stages and side-effects could end up harming patients.

Drug makers also fear potentially expensive lawsuits if something goes wrong in cases of experimenting with drugs that haven't been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Lynch said.

FDA regulations allow cases to be monitored by an institutional review board, but states' current right-to-try laws don't have that oversight.

Supporters argue that lifting restrictions on unapproved drug treatments opens another avenue for recovery that patients wouldn't otherwise have available to them.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee addressed the issue in October, and a panel spokesperson said Chairman Greg Walden is "dedicated to ensuring patients have access to potentially lifesaving treatment while also preserving FDA's vital oversight authority."

"Having held a hearing last year, the committee continues to engage with patients, members, and advocates to advance fair policy that helps patients understand the full benefit of access to investigational drugs and therapies," the spokesperson said.

"[Trump's] is an incredibly strong endorsement and demonstrates how much of a priority this is for the administration," said Starlee Coleman, a senior policy adviser for the Goldwater Institute. "We certainly think that that puts pressure on the House to take action on the bill that's been sitting with them for several months now."

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