A second attempt by House Republicans to pass a controversial bill granting additional access to experimental drugs was successful late Wednesday, this time under looser rules allowing passage with a simple majority.
Earlier this month, the same so-called right-to-try legislation was narrowly defeated along party lines in a vote that would have required the support of two-thirds of the chamber.
As Politico reported, the bill passed this week with the support of 35 Democrats and all but two Republicans with a final vote of 267 to 149.
The bill would allow terminally ill patients who have exhausted other medical options to legally access experimental drugs that have not yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration but have at least passed Phase 1 clinical studies.
Previous reports indicate the legislation does not, however, compel pharmaceutical companies to release these drugs to patients upon request.
This push for targeted deregulation has been popular among many prominent conservatives and has been a central mission for the Goldwater Institute, an Arizona-based libertarian think tank.
Senators voted to pass a related bill last year and President Donald Trump has already expressed his eagerness to ultimately sign such legislation into law.
“Patients with terminal conditions, terminal illness, should have access to experimental treatment immediately that could potentially save their lives,” Trump said earlier this year during his first State of the Union address.
Vice President Mike Pence is also in favor of the legislation. As governor of Indiana in 2015, he signed that state’s version of a right-to-try bill into law.
The bill continues to find opposition, though, with even some lawmakers who might be inclined to support expanded availability of experimental drugs arguing bureaucratic deregulation is not an effective way to accomplish the goal.
According to Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., the bill’s passage amounts to “false hope” for sick patients, adding that “when a patient is denied access to an experimental treatment, it is because a company has said no, not the FDA.”
He went on to accuse the bill and its supporters of trying to “undermine the authority of the expert public health agencies charged with reviewing drugs to ensure their safety and efficacy.”
Some of his Republican counterparts, like Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, say the bill is better than doing nothing.
“When you have no hope, perhaps false hope is better than no hope at all,” he said.
Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., agrees, calling support of the bill “compassionate” and “fair.”
Away from Capitol Hill, the debate continues with some critics of the measure expressing fear that this might signal further weakening of the FDA.
Isaac Foundation Executive Director Andrew McFayden, an advocate for patients with rare diseases, said he sees the vote as “the first step” in an effort by the Goldwater Institute and other groups to destroy “as many regulations as possible, take away all oversight, and let it be the Wild West of medicine.”
Some of those patients disagree, including Frank Mongiello, who is living with Lou Gehrig’s disease and wants to expand access to experimental treatments.
“There is no such thing as false hope,” he said. “Because while there is breath, there is hope.”
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