‘Right-to-try’ bill fails to muster votes, dies in the House (for now)

The controversial right-to-try bill, a divisive piece of legislation that would have given terminally ill patients access to experimental drugs without FDA authorization, was rejected by the House Tuesday after failing to get enough backers for the vote.

Greg Walden

The bill died on a vote of 259 to 140, short of the necessary two-thirds support from the chamber.

The vote came after a contentious debate among lawmakers and biopharma alike, centering on the appropriate balance between a patient’s freedom of choice and the regulatory oversight needed for that patient’s safety.

The measure, strongly backed by President Donald Trump and VP Mike Pence, was portrayed by GOP lawmakers as a last chance at survival for terminally ill patients. Democrats opposing the bill said it weakened FDA protections without doing much good for addressing the real obstacles to experimental drugs.

Biopharma will likely have mixed reactions to the news, as a recent Endpoints survey revealed our audience was rather split on the matter. As of February, nearly 58% of our readers disapproved of right-to-try, while 42% approved of the legislation.

In our survey, those who approved of the bill shared overwhelmingly consistent reasoning. Most conveyed compassion for terminally ill patients who are out of other options for treatment.

“(They) should be allowed to try a treatment or therapy if they think it will extend their life,” said one anonymous commenter. “Why should we legislate treatments? Shouldn’t someone be able to make their own decision about their health?”

Those readers who opposed the bill expressed deep concern for patients’ safety and vulnerability, going as far as to call right-to-try an avenue for “snake oil” sales tactics from untrustworthy drugmakers.

“The general public is dramatically misinformed about right to try,” one commenter wrote. “It comes to a head during emotional times. The media sensationalism of the situation doesn’t help. Research organizations use the words ‘life saving clinical trial’ like they all work. This too is a disservice. That causes people to feel that they are being denied something instead of being protected from snake oil.”

Michael Burgess

The Republican congressmen pushing the legislation — Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore) and Health Subcommittee Chairman Michael Burgess (R-Tex) — expressed their disappointment in the bill’s failure.

“For months we sought to strike the right balance by allowing patients greater access to these unapproved treatments and therapies while also ensuring proper patient protections,” they said in a joint statement. “This bill does just that.”

After the vote, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said the chamber will try again to pass the bill. A GOP aide said House Republicans are likely to bring a Senate version of the bill to the floor or try to attach the bill to a bigger legislative package.

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Sr. Manager, Regulatory Affairs, CMC
CytomX Therapeutics San Francisco, CA
Marketing Associate - Demand Generation
Catalytic Data Science Charleston, SC
Associate Principal, Life Sciences Partnerships
Flatiron Health New York City or San Francisco

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