By Rita Rubin for The Lancet. Laws that allow terminally ill patients access to experimental drugs are gaining momentum across the USA, but experts say they could do more harm than good. Rita Rubin reports.

Lorraine McCartin lives in Hanson, MA, about 30 miles south of Boston, one of the top medical towns in the USA, if not the world. And yet, McCartin had to fly to Washington, DC, to obtain an experimental drug that her doctor thought might be a “home run” against her metastatic breast cancer.

After the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) turned down Genentech’s request for accelerated approval, the company shut down the Boston site at which patients approved for compassionate use of the treatment could obtain it outside of clinical trials, which have strict eligibility criteria. The nearest remaining site was in a Virginia suburb of Washington.

Beginning in November, 2010, McCartin accumulated more than 15 000 frequent-flyer miles on 16 round trips every 3 weeks. Typically, she would leave Boston on Tuesday afternoon, get an infusion of the drug Wednesday morning in Virginia, and then fly home that afternoon. “I was tired from all that travelling”, McCartin recalled recently. But she feels lucky she could afford the trips. She has met other patients with breast cancer who might have benefited from the drug but couldn’t pay the airfare or endure the travelling necessary to get the experimental treatment; they later died from the disease.

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