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Nurse with cancer smashes fundraising target for drug unavailable on NHS

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A specialist nurse with cancer from Devon has raised nearly £100,000 through public donations to fund a drug not currently available on the NHS.

Laura Harris, a specialist oncology nurse at Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust, was diagnosed with stage IV metastatic bowel cancer in January 2017 and given three months to live.

“We are raising money to fund as many courses of treatment as possible to give Laura time with her young family”

Fundraising web page

Defying these predictions, the 42-year-old from Barnstable, who has two children and a stepson and cares for her elderly mother, even returned to work at North Devon Hospital.

But she has been told by doctors that her options are running out. As a result, she is now seeking to purchase the drug bevacizumab (Avastin), which is not routinely available on the NHS in England and Wales.

A crowdfunding page was set for Ms Harris by friends on the Go Fund Me website on 10 February. She reached an initial funding target of £40,000 on 24 March, just a day after her story became public when it was picked up by the national media.

She subsequently raised the fundraising target to £80,000 but has now smashed this too. As of 6 April, donations had reached £93,382.

Her crowdfunding page states: “Laura has beaten the odds so far with her palliative treatment and has fought a tough battle against this awful disease, now, her treatment options are running out.

“However, there is a treatment available which may just give her more time,” it said. “Laura’s new treatment is not available on the NHS so we are raising money to fund as many courses of treatment as possible to give Laura time with her young family.”

Bevacizumab targets a cancer cell protein called vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), blocking the protein and stops the cancer from growing blood vessels.

The drug can halt cancer progression for an average of three months and in some cases longer, according to its manufacturer Roche.

However, the drug is not recommended the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and is no longer available via the Cancer Drugs Fund since it ended in 2015.

NICE guidance states that bevacizumab in combination with oxaliplatin and either fluorouracil plus folinic acid or capecitabine is not recommended for the treatment of metastatic colorectal cancer.

It took the position that bevacizumab should not be funded by the NHS in 2010, because it costs nearly £21,000 per patient but only minimal benefit in many cancers.

It concluded that bevacizumab provided a “modest increase in progression-free and overall survival”, but said it was mindful of a “significant degree of uncertainty in the clinical evidence”.


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