Government backs proposed new law to give terminally-ill patients unlicensed drugs

Posted: 20/10/2014


The Medical Innovation Bill proposed by Lord Saatchi will allow victims of rare cancers to volunteer to be treated with untried drugs and will provide legal protection to clinicians to act innovatively in the treatment of patients with life-threatening conditions when they have exhausted other options.

During the second reading of the Bill in June 2014, Lord Saatchi argued that the current law “is a barrier to progress in curing cancer” and that "scientific knowledge has not advanced by one centimetre as a result of all these deaths, because the current law requires the deceased receive only the standard procedure - the endless repetition of a failed experiment”.

It has been argued that, if passed, the proposed new law will cut-out the need for years of clinical trials and will reduce the associated costs of developing new medicines. It is argued that, by permitting drugs to be administered to certain patients without having been tested through long clinical trials, pharmaceutical firms may be more likely to fund experimental drugs that will help a small number of people with rare diseases.

The Bill has, however, divided the medical profession as some doctors are concerned that allowing untested medicines to be used more widely could endanger patients. However, the Bill has since been amended to provide safeguards and now requires the agreement of at least one other specialist before trying out untested medical treatments on patients.

The amended Bill has since received backing from the Department of Health and the General Medical Council. The Bill is due to be debated in the House of Lords this Friday (24 October 2014) and by MPs in the House of Commons in December 2014. The supporters of the Bill have said that the Bill now had a 75 per cent chance of becoming law and, if passed, could be law by early March 2015.

Naomi Holland, an associate in the Penningtons Manches clinical negligence team, comments: “While the Medical Innovation Bill will provide doctors with some power to be more innovative in their treatment of patients and should progress medical care, safeguards must be put in place. Compliance with these safeguards must also be monitored to ensure that doctors act in the best interests of their patients. If the Bill is to make new law, doctors must take reasonable steps to advise patients of the associated risks of any proposed unlicensed drugs and that patients understand those risks. As with any medical procedure, it is important that appropriate consent is obtained from a patient in accordance with good medical practice.”


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