The friend of a woman who died in June says she believes a costly Thai clinic that offered to prolong the woman's life fed on the desperation of the sick and vulnerable.
After a 13-year battle with melanoma, 26-year-old Holly Devine died the day before she was due to fly to Bangkok for treatment at Brio Clinic.
Friends and family fundraised through Givealittle to pay a $55,000 deposit for the $130,000 treatment that claimed to destroy cancer, focusing on "acidic milieu" and including hyperthermia (heat therapy), high intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU), pH transformation therapy, immunotherapy and "infusions of micellized nutrients".
This week, Devine's friend, Renee Ball, told the Herald on Sunday she was sceptical of the clinic after finding little information about treatments or staff online.
The clinic's website has a small tab on its home page promoting cancer care, below treatments for jet lag, "male vigour," weight loss and fatigue management, among others. "There was no information about the cancer treatments on the website," Ball said.
Ball said friends and family came to a crossroads just weeks before Devine's death, trying to decide whether or not to help her go to the clinic. "But the clinic gave Holly hope that she may be able to survive."
She now believed Brio Clinic targeted vulnerable people like Devine and mother-of-three Amanda Ferreira, 45 - who attended the clinic earlier this year - giving them false hope. Ferreira died in May.
Cancer Society medical director and oncologist Dr Christopher Jackson told the Herald on Sunday he did not believe there was any evidence treatments offered by Brio Clinic, like "acidic milieu", could extend the duration or improve the quality of life of a patient with terminal cancer.
In June, there was no response to Herald attempts to contact Brio Clinic. But shortly afterwards, Michael Trogisch, the clinic's director of cancer care management, contacted Devine's family asking why he was receiving the queries, Ball said.
In a statement to the Herald on Sunday the clinic said it combined "core therapies with other methods to ensure cancerous tissue is completely destroyed".
"It is a mistake for us to believe that we are limited to current medicine ... Conventional medicine should not always be equated with the 'correct' treatment," the statement read.
Regarding Ferreira's treatment, the statement said all patients the clinic were consulted about their "motivation" for visiting.
"We are in no position to steal a patient - no matter which stage - their last hope," the statement read.
The clinic did not address questions about the claims made by Ball or about Trogisch's qualifications. After Devine died, her family requested the $55,000 deposit for her treatment be refunded, to which Trogisch replied that the financial burden would fall on him, and if the family spoke to media it would not make a difference. Later he agreed to return 50 per cent of the deposit, writing that he was "almost sure I have to pay from my own pocket".