“Right to Try” (Again): A history of the experimental therapy movement
In recent weeks and months, momentum has increased on Capitol Hill to craft “right to try” laws that would profoundly change the medical landscape. The national legislation will allow terminally ill patients more access to experimental therapies (drugs, biologics, devices) that have completed Phase 1 testing. Powerful pharmaceutical and biotech concerns have been largely quiet. The Trump administration, for its part, has underlined the issue, not only in the State of the Union Address but in VP Mike Pence’s active support.
Critics in academia and medical circles argue that the proposed “right to try” legislation would undermine public health and circumvent Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversight, while supporters argue that severely ill patients ought to have more freedoms to take experimental pharmaceutical products. Current reportage of the movement has rightfully referenced the HIV epidemic, the film Dallas Buyers Club (2013), and the drive for improved access to unapproved drugs in the 1980s. However, these are not the only ways to view contemporary deliberations about the nation’s drug regulatory architecture.
The right to try movement – and any legislation – embody long-standing struggles about the most appropriate treatment for public and individual health. These struggles have pitted mainstream medical practitioners against interlopers, and regulators against drug companies. Compassionate language about desperate patients with few options has run alongside intense legal wrangling, consumer activism, and prolonged discussions about the validity of medico-scientific data.
And a song called ‘Try Again’!