Jan. 03--Andrea Sloan, an Austin woman whose fight for an experimental cancer
drug drew hundreds of thousands of supporters across the world, died New Year's
Day from complications of pneumonia.
Sloan, 45, attracted international attention last year with a powerful social
media campaign to pressure BioMarin Pharmaceutical to let her use an unapproved
cancer drug that, while not yet FDA approved, has shown success in early trials.
The California-based company refused, saying it would be "unethical and
reckless" to give her an unproven cancer drug.
More than 230,000 people signed an online petition supporting Sloan's effort to
obtain the drugs. Her Facebook page -- Andi's Army -- has more than 15,000
"I have the most blessed life on the planet," Sloan told the American-Statesman
in September. "I'd like to keep it going."
As the executive director of the Texas Advocacy Project -- which provides free
legal advice to victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault -- the Austin
lawyer knew how to advocate for herself. But Sloan's battle for the drug quickly
morphed into a bigger mission: to reform the FDA's "compassionate use
That exemption allows pharmaceutical companies to provide unapproved medications
to seriously ill people who are not in clinical trials and who have exhausted
other treatment options. There is no single policy or process followed by the
drug companies, no single list of drugs available through compassionate use, and
no way to force the drug company or FDA to approve the desired treatment. Some
companies don't have policies at all.
Sloan and her army of followers began to advocate for laws that would require
each pharmaceutical company to develop its own compassionate use exemption
policy outlining guidelines so patients could navigate the system more easily.
Sloan took her advocacy effort to political leaders in Washington, including
former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. State
leaders also backed her, with more than 80 Texas legislators signing a letter
asking the California State Assembly to put pressure on BioMarin.
"This is life and death for a lot of people," said Rep. Eddie Rodriguez,
D-Austin, a friend who spearheaded the effort.
Sloan was diagnosed with ovarian cancer seven years ago. She went through
chemotherapy, a stem cell transplant and multiple surgeries. Last summer,
doctors at MD Anderson Cancer Center advised Sloan to pursue a compassionate use
exemption for BMN 673, which early research shows has had a positive effect on
44 percent of the ovarian cancer patients who took it.
Sloan eventually got a similar drug from a pharmaceutical company in October.
But by then, her health had deteriorated, said friend Deece Eckstein. The name
of the company was not released because it had requested confidentiality.
Family and friends will remember Sloan as more than just a fierce advocate for
compassionate use laws. She loved horses and Ryan Gosling. She listened to music
by Bon Jovi and Luke Bryan. She looked great in yellow.
Eckstein described Sloan as a "force of nature" devoted to making a difference
in the world.
"Laws are going to change," he said. "I think that that's going to happen.
That's going to be her legacy."
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