by Quin Hillyer
January 09, 2019

Opponents of the Right to Try law passed last year were dead wrong to say the law “won’t give patients access to experimental drugs.” A brain cancer patient in California is putting their absurd contention to rest.

Right-to-try allows patients with apparently terminal illnesses to seek experimental drug treatments, even if those drugs have not been approved for that use by the federal Food and Drug Administration. Congress finally passed the bill last May, after a multiyear fight, and President Trump signed it into law.

Critics bizarrely claimed that guaranteeing the right-to-try somehow would be “ unethical.” They said the FDA already has procedures for patients without other options, and that “a federal right-to-try law will do nothing to make companies more likely to grant patients access to their experimental drugs and will only make patients more vulnerable to actors looking to profit from their desperation.”

But the very process of navigating the FDA’s bureaucratic hurdles can be daunting, not to mention too time-consuming for desperate patients to afford when they may be at death’s door. The argument against the heartless pharmaceutical companies, meanwhile, is nonsense. The companies of course want their products to save lives — and, if a new use can be found for their drug that provides a miracle cure, it is of course likely to bring them good publicity and perhaps a new avenue for sales.

On Jan. 9 the Goldwater Institute, for years one of the chief advocates for right-to-try legislation for the federal and state governments, released information about the California patient who is using the new federal law.

“The patient was diagnosed with recurrent glioblastoma, and FDA-approved therapies have been unsuccessful at treating this deadly and aggressive form of brain cancer,” Goldwater wrote. “One treatment, a vaccine known as ERC1671, has shown promise in clinical trials, but this patient had not qualified for the ongoing trial for the treatment. The patient requested the treatment under the Right to Try law, which was enacted in 2017, and the patient’s treatment with ERC1671 began at the University of California, Irvine in late November 2018.”

The effectiveness of the treatment for this particular patient has not yet been determined. But the very option to use it provided hope for someone who had none through today's standard of care.

“You are going to see a very rapid and dramatic increase in the use of right-to-try in the next couple of months,” said Naomi Lopez Bauman, Goldwater’s director of healthcare policy, in an interview with the Washington Examiner Wednesday. “I am aware that there are manufacturers that are moving forward with Right to Try. ... This [example from California] is exactly the kind of patient who we knew needed help, and who the Right to Try law is designed to help — patients who have run out of other options and whose life hangs in the balance. We are really excited about this.”

Exactly. If the choice is between at least the chance for longer life and no chance at all, it is immoral for bureaucratic regulations to deny that chance. Right-to-try has begun to work, and it serves as an example that bureaucracies don’t always know best.