from the because-Texas dept.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott yesterday signed a bill allowing clinics and companies in the state to offer people unproven stem cell interventions without the testing and approval required under federal law. Like the "right to try" laws that have sprung up in more than 30 states, the measure is meant to give desperately ill patients access to experimental treatments without oversight from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
In a state where unproven stem cell therapies are already offered widely with little legal backlash, bioethicists and patient advocates wonder whether the state's official blessing will maintain the status quo, tighten certain protections for patients, or simply embolden clinics already profiting from potentially risky therapies.
"You could make the argument that—if [the new law] was vigorously enforced—it's going to put some constraints in place," says Leigh Turner, a bioethicist at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, who last year co-authored a study documenting U.S. stem cell clinics [DOI: 10.1016/j.stem.2016.06.007] [DX] marketing directly to consumers online, 71 of which were based in Texas. But "it would really be surprising if anybody in Texas is going to wander around the state making sure that businesses are complying with these standards," he adds. Either way, Turner says there's "powerful symbolic value" in "setting up this conflict between state law and federal law."
But are the rights of stem cells being protected?
Groups funded by Charles and David Koch have launched ad campaigns aimed at urging Congress to pass legislation that would make it easier for terminally ill patients to try experimental treatments. The bill passed the Senate unanimously, but FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told the House in October (archive) that the FDA already approves 99% of requests for expanded access/compassionate use, and that the primary roadblock is not the FDA, but drug supply constraints. He said that pharmaceutical companies do not continuously manufacture a drug undergoing clinical trials, but instead produce "discontinuous batches":
Several deep-pocketed political advocacy groups founded by Charles and David Koch are ramping up their advocacy before Congress on a niche issue: access to experimental drugs.
On Monday, several Koch-backed groups, including Freedom Partners and Americans for Prosperity, launched an ad campaign urging Congress to pass so-called "right-to-try" legislation, which aims to help terminally ill patients access experimental treatments that haven't yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The Senate unanimously passed a right-to-try bill from Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) last August, but it has since stalled in the House. Supporters, including lawmakers on Capitol Hill and other off-the-Hill advocates, are focusing their efforts this month on the Energy and Commerce Committee, which would likely have to clear the legislation before the full House could vote on it.
The new ad campaign — also sponsored by Generation Opportunity and The LIBRE Initiative — directly addresses Congress, saying at the end of one commercial, "Congress, give patients a chance. Pass right to try." In addition to a series of digital ads focused on D.C. and key congressional districts, the campaign will include lobbying efforts by the groups, according to a press release. In a letter sent Monday to Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), executives wrote, "We strongly urge your committee to act expeditiously to approve Right to Try legislation and send the bill to the House Floor for a full vote."
Johnson told STAT he's doing everything he can this month to get the legislation passed, and suggested the vice president might become even more engaged. Vice President Mike Pence has supported right-to-try efforts since he signed a similar law as governor of Indiana.
Related: What a Gottlieb-Led FDA Might Mean for the Pharmaceutical Industry
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Texas Sanctions FDA-Unapproved Stem Cell Therapies
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