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Phoenix doctor understands flip side of ‘right to try’ measure

PHOENIX — This election season, Arizona’s Proposition 303, the “right to try” measure, has seen little opposition.

If passed, it will allow terminally ill patients to pursue experimental drugs or treatments not yet approved by the federal government. But, the measure is not as simple a solution as it may appear.

Inside the statewide voter’s guide, the local newspaper, and even on local television there are plenty of persuasive arguments for passing Prop. 303.

The opinion of Goldwater Institute’s Christina Corieri is among them. “To access these treatments,” she wrote, “patients must either go through a lengthy FDA exemption process or wait for the treatments to receive FDA approval, which can take a decade or more and cost hundreds of millions of dollars.”

The clincher, she argued, is that “sadly, over half a million cancer patients and thousands of patients with other terminal illnesses die each year as the bureaucratic wheels at the FDA slowly turn.”

Paulina Morris made a personal and compelling argument for Prop. 303 on a local TV appearance.

“I’m here for the patients who can’t afford to travel,” she said. By passing Prop. 303, she hopes others will not have to leave the country as she and family did to seek life-saving treatment for her 11-year-old son when he was diagnosed with bone cancer.

Dr. Robert Arceci is among the lead oncologists at Phoenix Children’s Hospital and T-Gen’s Research Institute, as well the University of Arizona’s College of Medicine. He is on the front line diagnosing and delivering the difficult words, “You have cancer,” to patients and their families.

As with any good doctor, he subscribes to the medical credo, “Do no harm.” He takes that view when considering Prop. 303.

“On the plus side,” he said, “it may provide for greater access to patients who might benefit by them. And, ‘might’ is a big word.”

He admitted it gives hope when people hear a trial drug saved a patient’s life. But, he warns, without proper testing for many drugs, there is a serious down side. “There are profoundly serious side effects both in adults and children that you could hurt more people than you help, in fact.”

He agreed that the drug approval process is too slow, but he said the FDA is not the enemy.

“They really want drugs to go out to people who need them,” he said. “They’re not there to prevent things, they’re there to develop drugs safely.”

To speed up the process for access to trial drugs in the U.S., he suggested the public put political pressure on lawmakers to push legislation that will allow the FDA to improve its resources and work faster.