House Backs Bill Pushing "Right to Try" Experimental Drugs

The Texas House on Tuesday tentatively passed House Bill 21, the “right to try” bill that would allow terminally ill patients to try experimental drugs that have passed at least the first of three FDA trial phases.

 Todd Wiseman

The Texas House on Tuesday tentatively passed "right to try" legislation, which would allow terminally ill patients to try experimental drugs that have passed at least the first of three FDA trial phases, once the patient has exhausted other treatment options.

Laying out House Bill 21, state Rep. Kyle Kacal, R-College Station, honored state Capitol lobbyist Andrea Sloan, who waged a public battle with ovarian cancer and eventually sought federal permission to try an experimental treatment in 2013, shortly before her death. Sloan had to wait more than three weeks to get approval, a process lawmakers hope to expedite with the right-to-try legislation.

“She was a constituent of mine and a friend of mine, a really strong and sweet person,” Kacal said of Sloan, whose parents were in the Capitol on Tuesday to witness the voice vote for HB 21.

The bill would not require that drug companies provide the treatment or that insurance plans cover the costs. For that reason, some critics have labeled the statehouse proposals “placebo legislation,” noting that changes to the FDA drug approval process would have to be written in Washington. Other critics of the bills — similar versions of which are being considered in statehouses around the country — say they could endanger patients, even if the legislators voting for them do so with good intentions.

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Kacal addressed some of those concerns while laying out the bill.

“This bill does not mandate manufacturers to provide a drug, nor does it allow them to profit off of providing the drug to terminally ill patients,” he said. “Also, it should be noted that federal law already prohibits the making of a profit off on unapproved drugs.”

After final approval, HB 21 will go to the Senate, which passed a slightly different version of companion legislation earlier this month.

This story was produced in partnership with Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.