Bill would give terminally ill patients easier access to experimental drugs

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By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

PHOENIX -- Lorraine Heidke-McCartin believes she would have lost her battle to stage four breast cancer years ago had she not tried a then experimental drug.

“We did everything we could to get it,” Heidke-McCartin said of T-DM1, which was approved last year by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

However, Heidke-McCartin told 3TV had she not obtained the drug on her own by traveling to an “expanded access” site in Virginia, the approval might have come too late for her.

“I needed hope,” she said. “I needed something to keep me moving forward because at one point I wanted to give up.”

Heidke-McCartin is now cancer-free and speaking out to Arizona lawmakers. She and her husband traveled from Boston to Phoenix to testify at a Senate Health and Human Services Committee meeting in support of the so-called “Right to Try” bill.

HCR 2005, sponsored by Rep. Phil Lovas, R-Peoria, would allow manufacturers, health care institutions and physicians to make investigational drugs accessible to terminally ill patients as long as the drugs have completed the first phase of clinical trials.

Before drugs are approved by the FDA, they must complete three phases of clinical trials involving humans. Then, it must be determined that the drug’s benefits outweigh the risks for proposed use.

Phil McCartin, Lorraine’s husband and tireless medical advocate, said the trial process takes too long.

“This bill will cut red tape and bureaucracy,” he said during the committee hearing. “This bill will potentially save lives right here in Arizona.”

While no opponents of the bill spoke at the Senate committee hearing Wednesday, the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association is against the proposed law. They did not respond to 3TV’s request for comment in time for this story.

Rep. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe, who voted against the bill during a House committee hearing, said in a statement to 3TV: “I vote against this bill not just to keep untested drugs out of people’s hands for their safety, but to support the FDA in their effort of protecting and promoting our shared public health through the overseeing of the testing of new drugs."

“If we provide almost unfettered legal access to experimental drugs by terminally ill patients, we will be radically altering the conduct of clinical cancer research,” he continued.

However, Tracy Canter, who lost her mother to breast cancer in 2011, says it’s about having options.

“Why would you oppose somebody wanting to choose something over just laying down and dying, if you have no other options?" she said.

Heidke-McCartin said, for her, it was about a shot at survival.

“I would have missed so many things in my life over the last seven years,” she said. “I’ve had seven grandchildren since the day I was diagnosed. My kids have gotten married. I’ve gotten to see it all.”

HCR 2005 is expected to go before the full Senate in coming weeks, since the bill has passed both House and Senate Committees. If passed by lawmakers, it will go before voters as early as the November 2014 ballot.