Daily News: Disease

Anonymous company gives Austin woman experimental cancer drug

Austin American-Statesman (TX)

10-07-13

Oct. 04--An anonymous drug company has stepped forward to give experimental cancer drugs to an Austin woman who has waged a social media war for the treatment for more than two months.

Since August, Andrea Sloan has been battling BioMarin Pharmaceutical for access to BMN 673, an investigational drug whose early success in treating ovarian cancer has been touted to the California company's shareholders. BioMarin has refused to give it to her, saying it would be "unethical and reckless" because the drug is still in the clinical trial phase.

But this week, another pharmaceutical company took the rare step of intervening to give Sloan a similar drug being developed. The company, one of several that Sloan approached, wants to remain anonymous.

"I think they are in the business of curing cancer and other diseases and that they don't want or need a big ticker tape parade," Sloan said.

Sloan, 45, began treatment this week.

BioMarin, which has been fiercely criticized by Sloan's thousands of supporters, said in a statement, "We are pleased to hear this update from Ms. Sloan. We wish her the best in her journey."

Sloan's campaign drew national attention to the issue of "compassionate use," which allows pharmaceutical companies to offer experimental drugs to terminally ill people who have exhausted their treatment options. But drug companies are often loathe to give people those medications, saying they aren't yet ready for market.

Sloan's social media push is a rare victory among other such publicized pleas. BioMarin was involved in another firestorm this year when an 18-year-old girl in Britain was denied drugs her doctors believed might stave off her bone cancer. The teen died in February.

It is not uncommon for companies to privately work with individuals on such requests, said Bob Erwin, co-founder of the Marti Nelson Cancer Foundation, a California-based organization that works on compassionate use issues. But it is highly unusual for a high-profile case to draw action from a drug company's competitor, as in Sloan's case, he said.

"It's not common for another company to respond so generously because another one is being a jerk," Erwin said.

Sloan, executive director of the Texas Advocacy Project, was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer seven years ago. When traditional treatments stopped working this year, her doctors suggested she pursue a compassionate use exemption for BMN 673.

Company officials declined, saying the drug has been tested on fewer than 30 people and providing it to everyone who wants it without more research would be "unethical and reckless."

Sloan and her friends took their fight online. Since mid-August, more than 190,000 people have signed her online petition. Members of a Facebook group called Andi's Army led the social media charge, reaching out to anyone they thought could promote the cause.

Celebrities, including Mia Farrow, Chris Meloni and Wynonna Judd, offered their online support for the Austin woman's quest. More than 80 Texas legislators signed a letter asking the California State Assembly to put pressure on the company.

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