Another state considers terminally ill access to experimental drugs

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Despite opposition from some drug makers and provider groups, Illinois lawmakers are considering several bills that would allow terminal patients to try unapproved experimental drugs to extend their lives.

Drafted under the growing movement dubbed “Right to Try,” the bills would give patients the freedom to access and use unapproved investigational drugs, biological products or devices that have gone through the first phase of clinical trials as long as they consider other options and their physician approves. The bills would allow dying patients to circumvent the FDA's existing Expanded Access program for using the drugs — a bureaucratic process criticized by some as consuming too much time.

At least four states currently allow unfettered access to experimental drugs for the terminally ill, and another 20 are considering similar measures, the Chicago Tribune reported Friday.

Advocates, including the AIDS Foundation of Chicago and the ALS Association Greater Chicago Chapter, support the efforts to free access to experimental drugs because it allows patients and their doctors to make critical healthcare decisions without government intrusion, they say. The Right to Try movement is part of a wider effort led by the Goldwater Institute, an Arizona-based libertarian think tank.

Powerful opponents to the movement, however, include the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and physicians such as Cheyn Onarecker, co-chair of the Healthcare Ethics Council at Trinity International University in Deerfield. He told the Chicago Tribune he feared patients would waste time chasing expensive and unavailable experimental drugs when they could have used the time to extend their lives using approved drugs, the newspaper reported.

Researchers at the Goldwater Institute and backers of the pending Illinois bills acknowledge they have little or no evidence that any patients have been able to even access experimental drugs in states where the practice is allowed.