Sometimes the obvious eludes us. For instance, when word gets out that a pharmaceutical company is developing a breakthrough drug with the potential to save lives, that company is deluged with requests from desperate patients to receive the medication, according to STAT.
There are problems with that. For thing, pharma companies are hesitant to give out limited supplies of drugs needed in clinical trials to receive FDA approval. Then, there’s the issue of how clinical trials are structured, with some patients getting a placebo and others getting the experimental drug. There’s always the question: Who gets the drug?
“Often, it’s the richest patients, or the best connected, or those who run the most compelling social media campaigns who end up getting the drug,” STAT reports. “Everyone else is out of luck.”
A new program by Janssen Pharmaceuticals took on these thorny issues when it came to its experimental drug daratumumab (brand name Darzalex), designed to battle the particularly deadly form of blood cancer multiple myeloma. Janssen, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, asked bioethicist Arthur Caplan to come up with a fair and fast system “to determine which of the many desperate patients could get access to the limited supplies.”
Charles Debrovner, a cofounder and former president of the Global Bioethics Initiative, a nonprofit that studies and raises awareness about bioethics, tells STAT: “I really look forward to seeing this adopted universally. It’s hard to believe it’s taken this long for someone to embark on this, because it just seems so obvious.”
What Caplan did was create a 10-member panel that includes doctors, ethicists, and patient advocates who read medical records containing only a patient’s age, dependents, and medical records. Missing are profession, friends, income, name, gender, race, and profession. Three members of the panel make their recommendations.
Not everyone is completely sold on the process, including Debrovner. What if, for instance, someone like Stephen Hawking is among the applicants? He tells STAT: “Imagine if he wasn’t saved, what a difference in the world there might have been.”
Just another ethical element that must be considered.