Abigail's story

Last updated: 13 October 2022

Abigail's story

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Abigail had always wanted to go to college. At 18, she was living her dream. Studying at the University of Virginia, she was an honors student and an active member of her community and church.

Devastatingly, she was diagnosed with head and neck cancer. She tried various forms of chemotherapy straight away, but they kept failing.

With no more treatments left to try, her physician suggested that she look at experimental medicines (medicines that are still under development and have yet to be tested and approved).

Based on molecular diagnostics, Abigail's physician knew of a drug that was already in development and could benefit her greatly.

She applied for clinical trials but was told she did not qualify – her cancer didn't fit the exact criteria of the trial. Her family begged different manufacturers to give her the medicine on compassionate grounds, but to no avail.

Although fighting for her own life, Abigail realised she wasn't the only one. One day she turned to her father: "Dad, if I make it, I want to devote my life to helping people with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses. Let's start working on ideas."

Together they started lobbying pharmaceutical companies and launched a media campaign that attracted a lot of attention. In June 2001, a few days before she died, Abigail spoke with a journalist: "This is not just about me. This is about so many others too."

No one knows if the medicine that Abigail was denied could have helped her. As it was at an early state of development, the side effects were unknown. This was a risk that Abigail and her family were willing to take; however, drug companies and regulatory boards denied her of the chance.

After Abigail died, her father, Frans Burroughs quit his job as an engineer and founded the Abigail Alliance For Better Access to Developmental Drugs – a lobbying group seeking to create wider access to developmental cancer drugs and other drugs for serious life-threatening illnesses. In Abigail's honour, they seek to prevent situations like hers in the future.