OKLAHOMA CITY — There are usually limited options for Oklahomans diagnosed with terminal illnesses after exhausting all government-approved medical remedies.
But a Norman legislator is aiming to give dying patients one last-glimmer of hope — faster and easier access to experimental drugs awaiting approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Sen. Rob Standridge, who is a pharmacist, said he is championing “Right-to-Try” legislation that will allow dying patients to bypass a current lengthy application process and access experimental drugs without all the bureaucracy.
Under his legislation, any drug that has cleared at least the first phase of clinical trials will be eligible to be prescribed — at a doctor’s discretion — to terminally ill patients at the manufacturer’s cost. The measure will relieve doctors and drug manufacturers from liability.
In most cases, the drugs probably won’t be enough to save a life of someone who is already dying, but the Republican lawmaker said his measure would hopefully allow for the occasional miracle.
“Who knows what promise is on the horizon that somebody could possibly benefit from?” he said.
While the bill has faced little opposition from Oklahoma lawmakers, and could be voted on by the Senate as soon as Monday, critics contend that phase 1 tests only focus on whether a drug is safe for consumption, not a drug's effectiveness. Bypassing other stages of testing could potentially put a patient at risk or worsen a condition.
Five states adopted similar legislation in 2014, and the issue is before about 30 more legislatures this year, said Kurt Altman, a national policy adviser and general counsel with the Goldwater Institute, a conservative Phoenix-based group backing the measure across the nation.
Many states are modeling their own measures after the first version of the law that Altman drafted. His group believes it can take hundreds of hours to navigate the FDA’s paperwork, and while most requests to try drugs are approved, dozens of people have died while awaiting approval.
“Right-to-try laws like this give the people of Oklahoma just another opportunity when everything else has been tried or exhausted,” Altman said, adding it allows patients to “control their own destiny.”
Altman said the law is geared toward the 97 percent of terminally ill patients who do not qualify for clinical trials, but may benefit from the drug. Any concerns that such a measure may hurt organized trials or further research are unfounded, he said.
Most states, like Oklahoma, have been open to such legislation, Altman said.
“This isn’t a Republican or Democrat issue,” he said. “It comes down to a human issue.”