Health care: Better drug access for terminal patients

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The distinguished statistician Les Halpin died last month from motor neuron disease, aged 56. He was the founder of the Empower: Access to Medicine campaign to improve the availability of experimental therapies and to accelerate drug approval and licensing for people with life-threatening illnesses (see

After his diagnosis in May 2011, Halpin was surprised by the lack of treatments for people with his disease. This led him to ponder, from a statistical viewpoint, the regulatory systems that we apply to biomedical innovation, noting that they are much more risk-averse than the patients they are intended to serve. He believed that as a result, new medicines take longer to develop and are more costly than necessary.

His campaign has enabled drugs to get to market faster and more cheaply (see, for example, With support from academics, politicians and industrial scientists, he developed the Halpin Protocol (see, which has sparked debate in the UK Parliament.

Halpin's campaign to overcome barriers to health-care translation will continue, aiming to lower them objectively and safely through increased flexibility in drug development and regulation.

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  1. University of Oxford, and CASMI, Oxford, UK; and Harvard Stem Cell Institute, Massachusetts, USA.

    • David A. Brindley
  2. CASMI, Oxford, UK.

    • Richard W. Barker
  3. University of Cambridge, UK.

    • Peter J. Lachmann

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