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Our view: New legislation 'opens the door' to cancer patients to take part in trials

Our view: New legislation 'opens the door' to cancer patients to take part in trials

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Among the flurry of bills signed into law by Gov. Tony Evers last week, one that didn’t get much attention stands to help cancer patients and their families throughout Wisconsin.

The bill, SB 489, passed on voice votes in both the Assembly and Senate with full bipartisan support, addresses economic barriers faced by cancer patients to participate in life-sustaining clinical trials.

Recent national studies have found that cancer patients from households making less than $50,000 annually were about 30 percent less likely to seek clinical trials, which depend on broad and diverse participation for their very future. And about 20 percent of the trials fail because of insufficient enrollment.

Holding patients back have been out-of-pocket and travel costs that aren’t covered by the clinical trials.

This bill, sponsored by Rep. Bob Kulp, R-Stratford, and Sen. Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield, allows patients reimbursement of expenses with their participation in a trial. It clarifies that providing reimbursement is not considered undue inducement to participate, and it allows organizations and others to offer financial support to the patients.

“Our bill will help open the door to cancer patients who want to participate in a clinical trial, but who can’t because they don’t have the personal funds to cover expenses like travel and lodging during their treatment,” Kulp said.

Among supporters of the bill were the American Cancer Society Action Network, the Medical College of Wisconsin, the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, the Wisconsin Medical Society and the Wisconsin Nurses Association.

An organization that helps patients cover out-of-pocket expenses throughout the country is the Lazarex Cancer Foundation, located in California. The foundation worked with the sponsors to raise awareness of this issue in Wisconsin.

Similar legislation has been passed in California, Illinois, Texas and Pennsylvania, according to the foundation.

All new cancer treatments must complete a clinical trial before becoming FDA approved, according to the foundation, and the trials must have patients enrolled to be successful. But, the foundation notes that an estimated 97% of cancer patients don’t enroll because trial sites are often far from home, making travel and costs difficult for patients and their families.

“If we don’t have fully enrolled clinical trials with a diverse pool of patients, treatments new treatments are not possible,“ said Dana Dornsife, Lazarex Cancer Foundation founder. “Clinical trials are the pathway to new treatments. But when you have only 3% of cancer patients enrolling in clinical trials and about 50% of clinical trials failing because they can’t enroll patients, the pathway is blocked. That’s why Lazarex raised this issue in Wisconsin.”

Andrew Wernicke, 21, a student at the University of Wisconsin Whitewater, has a rare cancer (since age 12) and for years traveled to Augusta, GA, monthly for a clinical trial. His family was able to cover expenses but now he may receive help. And he’s fortunate in that he now can participate in a clinical trial in Milwaukee.

“Clinical trials have saved my life,” he said.

When the bill was introduced in September 2019, Kulp said, “Cancer patients shouldn’t have to decide between living expenses and hope.”

This legislation may go a long way in taking away a barrier for Wisconsin cancer patients and their families moving forward.

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