‘Right-to-Try’ Bill Advances

A bill (SB 149) that would give terminally ill Californians greater access to experimental medications advanced through a Senate committee on Monday.

The “Right-to-Try Act,” by Sen. Jeff Stone (R-Riverside County), would allow patients with terminal illnesses to use early-stage drugs that have not yet been approved by FDA.

The bill passed the Senate Committee on Business, Professions and Economic Development on a 9-0 vote on Monday. Last week, the Senate Health Committee approved the bill 7-0.

AB 159, a similar bill by Assembly member Ian Calderone (D-Whittier), passed in the Assembly Health Committee and the Assembly Committee on Business and Professions earlier this month.

Fifteen states have enacted right-to-try laws and 20 other states are considering similar legislation. The Goldwater Institute, a libertarian think tank in Phoenix, is driving the bills in statehouses.

Under SB 149, terminally ill patients could gain access to experimental drugs that have completed Phase I clinical trials. Drugmakers would be allowed to make these drugs available to patients without liability risks. Prescribing physicians and health facilities would also be immune from liability for adverse events.

“This bill will help many people who currently have no hope for recovery,” Stone said. “SB 149 gives terminally ill patients the options of doing everything they can to live.”

The California Medical Association opposes right to try legislation, saying that it could give false hope to dying patients and the drugs could exploit patient circumstances and ultimately do more harm than good.

In California, terminally ill patients seeking access to experimental drugs must be either enrolled in a clinical trial or apply to the FDA for compassionate use. In the past four years, FDA has received 6,000 requests for compassionate use access, and denied 33 applications, according to the journal Health Affairs. Critics of the FDA access program have called it lengthy and cumbersome. Efforts are underway to streamline the application and response process.

SB 149 goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee next.

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