Politics & Policy

House Votes Down ‘Right to Try’ Drug Bill


The House voted against the controversial “Right to Try” bill Tuesday evening, which would let patients access drugs not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

The bill, which needed two thirds of the vote to pass under suspension of the rules, failed narrowly 259-140. The Senate passed an earlier version of the bill by unanimous consent.

The legislation would allow terminally ill patients who have exhausted other avenues of treatment to try drugs that have passed at least a Phase 1 clinical trial. It does not require drug companies to release the trial medicines to patients who ask for them, however.

“Right to Try” has been a priority for the Trump administration, with the president advocating for the bill at his State of the Union address in January.

“Patients with terminal conditions should have access to experimental treatments that could potentially save their lives,” Trump said during the speech.

Vice President Mike Pence also supports the bill and approved a similar law when he was governor of Indiana.

House Democrats and critics argued the bill encourages false hope in patients and could undermine the FDA in the future. More than 75 patient-advocacy organizations lobbied the House to defeat the bill, stating in a letter that it would “likely do more harm than good.”

Representative Frank Pallone Jr. (D., N.J.), the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, which revised the Senate version, said Monday that he opposed the bill. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi also opposed it.

But advocates said patients should have the option to try experimental medicines before it is too late. The decision should be between the patient and his doctor without the government’s involvement, supporters argued.

“When you have no hope, perhaps false hope is better than no hope at all,” said Representative Joe Barton (R., Texas) on the House floor before the vote. Barton is in favor of the bill despite sharing a story about his terminally ill brother, who passed away after an unsuccessful trial with a new medicine.

“But he had that last shot,” Barton said. “Give hope a chance.”

“There is no such thing as false hope. Because while there is breath, there is hope,” said Frank Mongiello, a “Right to Try” advocate diagnosed with ALS.

The Goldwater Institute, the main force pushing the bill, said Tuesday that Congress’ failure is only a temporary setback.

“Unfortunately, scare tactics, falsehoods, and innuendo won the day,” President and CEO Victor Riches said in a statement. “We will keep pursuing the Right to Try until every American can exercise their freedom to fight to live.”

Thirty-eight states have already embraced “Right to Try” policies, but advocates say a federal law is necessary to solve some of the obstacles to the drugs crossing state lines.

The FDA’s Expanded Access Program attempts to fulfill most patients’ requests for experimental medicines, but supporters argue the bill would expedite the process even more by letting patients bypass FDA permission and some regulations.