WASHINGTON — The Koch-backed group Americans for Prosperity is pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into a renewed push for federal “right-to-try” legislation that aims to give terminally ill patients a new way to access experimental therapies.
The six-figure ad campaign will include both targeted digital ads and a new national television ad that pulls seemingly supportive sound bites from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) as well as longtime proponent Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and President Trump. The latter will air on both broadcast and cable channels.
“Terminally ill patients are running out of time. Access to experimental treatments could save their lives,” a woman says over simple images of hospital hallways, doctors, and patients, including a mother and child in an inpatient room and another young woman with a headwrap hugging a child.
“What are we waiting for? Pass ‘Right to Try,'” the ad concludes.
Americans for Prosperity and other supporters of the right-to-try movement have been pushing for the legislation, which would set up a new pathway for dying patients who want to sidestep Food and Drug Administration rules to request an experimental drug or treatment from a drug maker before the agency has approved it. Supporters say the new pathway would give patients a break from overly cumbersome FDA rules, especially when they feel they don’t have time to wait.
Others, including Schumer and the majority of House Democrats, have suggested that the legislation could hamstring the FDA’s ability to oversee the safe administration of the therapies outside of the traditional clinical trial process. They point out that the FDA already has an “expanded access” program under which terminally ill patients can apply to get access to an experimental therapy, often within a short time frame.
In Washington, right-to-try legislation has grown increasingly controversial. Though the Senate passed its own version of the legislation unanimously last August, the House struggled to pass an updated version of the legislation using a procedure reserved for noncontroversial items. After one failed vote, it passed the bill in March, largely on party lines.
Since then, the legislation has stalled. For the measure to reach Trump’s desk, either chamber would have to take up and pass a version that has already cleared the other. Trump, for his part, has offered support for the measure in his State of the Union address in January.
In hopes of reinvigorating the legislative effort, Americans for Prosperity will target its digital campaign within the home districts of key lawmakers whose committees have jurisdiction over the legislation: Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden of Oregon and Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Chairman Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. It will also target its ads at House and Senate leadership.