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State Senate Committee Votes to Increase Access to Innovative Testing and Lifesaving Treatments
Cancer advocates call for legislators to ensure more patients can access testing to identify to the most effective treatments, leading to better survival, better quality of life
Video with cancer survivor’s story here.
Sacramento, Calif. – The California Senate Health Committee voted Wednesday evening to advance a bill that would increase access to biomarker testing, a critical step in accessing precision medicine treatments that can lead to fewer side effects, improved survival, better quality of life and potentially lower costs for cancer patients.
Senate Bill 912 would ensure comprehensive biomarker testing is covered by more insurance plans, including Medi-Cal, when supported by medical and scientific evidence. The bill moves on to the Senate Appropriations Committee.
During Wednesday's hearing, Pete Cala provided testimony regarding the importance of biomarker testing for accessing precision medicine and enrolling patients in clinical trials. Seven years ago, Cala was diagnosed with stage four esophageal cancer and given five months to live. He credits biomarker testing for his successful cancer treatment.
As a retired professor of physiology and membrane biology at the University of California Davis School of Medicine, Cala understood biomarker testing could help identify the best treatment to his specific condition and lead to better outcomes. Fortunately, he was able to get the biomarker testing needed to identify in his mutations in his cancer – which ultimately allowed him to enroll in a clinical trial.
His biomarker testing results identified a specific mutation in his cancer that could be treated using checkpoint inhibitors. However, the treatment was not approved for esophageal cancer.
Cala started conventional therapy and endured brutal side effects. “The skin was coming off my hands and feet. There were days I got up and thought, ‘this could be my last day on earth’,” he said.
Eventually, Cala qualified for a clinical trial using checkpoint inhibitors. “It was miraculous. My PET scans started at stage four. After two treatments, the scans read normal or nearly normal. After four treatments, they read normal.”
He is now cancer-free and has joined the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) and the University of California to advocate for increased access to biomarker testing and help ensure cancer patients have access to precision medicine.
Communities that have been under-resourced, including communities of color, individuals with limited income, rural residents and patients receiving care in non-academic medical centers are less likely to receive recommended biomarker testing.
“We urge the legislature to pass this bill to help dismantle cost barriers and bring the promise of precision medicine to more cancer patients, regardless of their income, race or zip code,” said Autumn J. Ogden-Smith, California Legislative Director for ACS CAN. “Improving coverage for and access to biomarker testing across insurance types is key to reducing health inequities and improving cancer outcomes.”
For more information on precision medicine, cancer biomarkers, current barriers to biomarker testing and ACS CAN’s policy recommendations, visit: www.fightcancer.org/biomarkers.