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Government/Politics

Right To Try: Texas Lawmakers Look To Rethink ‘Compassionate Care’

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On Tuesday, the Texas House’s Public Health Committee heard testimony from people on potential legislation that could change when a person facing a terminal illness could be given experimental drugs. The bill, introduced in the state House last month, would lessen restrictions on medication for compassionate use.

It’s called the ‘Right To Try’ bill and it would lessen the criteria cancer and terminally ill patients would have to meet before being prescribed experimental medication. Bryan-College Station Republican Rep. Kyle Kacal is the author of the bill. He said only nine states currently have this type of law on the books.

“This bill is very simple, compassionate use. Right To Try legislation is for terminally ill patients. So we’re taking the patient pool down to a very small amount of folks. I mean we’ve only issued compassionate care to less than 1,000 people in the U.S. alone,” Kacal explained to the House committee.

Kacal‘s bill would decrease the waiting period for these medications. That’s something that Michelle Wittenberg said would have helped her friend, Austin-attorney Andrea Sloan, whose fight against cancer made national news after she had been cleared to receive experimental drugs in 2013, but because of the waiting period, had only just begun a regime when she died at the beginning of 2014.

“If Andrea Sloan could have have gotten this drug a month into seeking, two months into seeking it, anything less than what she got, the odds are she would have had a much better chance of surviving,” said Wittenberg.

The current rules and regulations are something Simonton Republican Dr. John Zerwas knows about personally. He said these drugs are supposed to serve as a last hope for terminally ill patients. Zerwas’ wife Cindy died in 2013 from a brain tumor.

“It [compassionate care/experimental drugs] was discussed as a potential therapy but it was a big stretch to make that happen, considering all the hoops we would’ve had to jump through,” Zerwas said.

He said when you reach that stage of life every extra day that you have with your loved ones is irreplaceable.

But Dr. William Decker, with the Baylor College of Medicine, said that making these drugs more available before the FDA had had a chance to thoroughly review them puts vulnerable and desperate families at risk for fraud. “Ninety-seven percent of the drugs that make it through Phase I trials will still fail efficacy, they will be no better than snake oil,” Decker told the House committee.

Dr. Decker has asked the bill’s author to accept revisions that adds another layer to the FDA review process before these drugs become available. For now, a vote on the bill was left pending in committee.

The ninth state to sign this into law was a very recent addition, Tuesday in fact. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed into immediate effect a law that would allow terminally ill patients in Indiana to use experimental drugs not yet available in drugstores.

Interestingly, the Indiana Right To Try law deals with the same issue Dr. Decker mentioned, except by going in the opposite direction: It gave patients access to experimental treatments that have only cleared the first phase of the FDA’s approval process. The full approval process, if it materializes, often takes well more than 10 years.