WASHINGTON — President Trump personally pressed a key House committee chairman to move quickly on right-to-try legislation, asking for a timeline on the bill’s delivery at a separate White House event on infrastructure Wednesday.
Rep. Greg Walden, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said Trump’s question was “How close are you to getting this done?”
“And I said we’re very close. And we are,” Walden told reporters at the Capitol on Wednesday, after the meeting.
Supporters say federal “right-to-try” legislation will give patients with life-threatening illness better access to experimental treatments that haven’t yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Similar legislation has already passed in more than 30 states.
The conversation comes just a fortnight after Trump highlighted the issue in his first State of the Union address. Vice President Mike Pence has also been a vocal advocate for the issue since he was governor of Indiana, and has been meeting with key members of Congress, including Walden, to push the measure this year.
The Senate unanimously passed its own version of a right-to-try measure last year, but critics have suggested any future legislation should be more narrowly tailored and do more to protect patients. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb was also critical of that proposal in an October hearing, suggesting he would favor several tweaks.
Walden, whose committee will likely oversee the next steps on the legislation, suggested Wednesday that his staff is working to address those concerns, but had been “a little delayed” while key legislative counsel worked to hammer out the budget deal the president signed last week.
“We’ll come together on the language and then be able to [publicize] it,” he said, asked about the committee’s specific next steps. He said he expected the committee would ultimately markup either a new bill or a version of the Senate-passed bill.
“There were 44 patient groups, I think, [that signed] that letter that said what came from the Senate does not solve the issue they were hoping to solve. So we’ll be working with them once we get language — and we’ve been in communication with them on language, I believe,” Walden said. “We’ve been working with Scott Gottlieb; I’ve met directly with the vice president; so there’s a lot of discussion going on to try and get a right-to-try bill that gives terminally ill [patients] access to drugs that at least we know are safe, that allows that. So we’re close.”
Supporters of the right-to-try legislation say it will help patients whose lives are in danger to more quickly and readily access life-saving treatments that haven’t yet made it all the way through the FDA approval process.
Critics point to an existing FDA program that allows for similar “compassionate uses” of experimental therapies, and suggest that the legislation aims to allow some companies to skirt existing FDA authority.