More trouble for Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski

It’s a new year, but some topics remain the same. One of these is the case of the highly dubious cancer doctor named Stanislaw Burzynski who claims to have discovered anticancer compounds in the blood known as antineoplastons, conducts “clinical trials” for which he charges patients and whose results he are largely unpublished, and of late has started marketing a do-it-yourself “personalized gene-targeted cancer therapy” that–surprise! surprise!–almost always involves antineoplastons. More importantly, contrary to Dr. Burzynski’s claim that he doesn’t use chemotherapy and that his therapy is nontoxic, he does, and it isn’t. Perhaps Burzynski’s cleverest stroke of all is to rebrand his antineoplastons as an orphan drug (or is it the other way around?), using it off-label to treat cancer. The Texas Medical Board tried to stop Dr. Burzynski and strip him of his license back in the 1990s but, for reasons that continue to elude me even now, failed. It’s set for another go at Burzynski, and I sincerely hope it succeeds this time. However, even before the Texas Medical Board will be able to convene hearings, I’ve learned through the almighty power of Google Alerts that there’s more trouble coming Burzynski’s way.

This time, it’s in the form of a lawsuit by one of his patients, which is described in an article entitled Cancer Patient Says Doc Used Her as ATM:

HOUSTON (CN) – An elderly cancer patient claims a doctor used his clinics and pharmacy to bilk her of nearly $100,000 by persuading her to undergo a proprietary cancer treatment that “was actually a clinical trial,” and charging her $500 per pill for drugs she could buy elsewhere for a fraction of that price.

Lola Quinlan sued Houston-based Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski and his companies, The Burzynski Clinic, the Burzynski Research Institute and Southern Family Pharmacy, in Harris County Court.

“Ms. Quinlan is an elderly, stage IV cancer patient living in Florida who defendants swindled out of nearly $100,000.00 by using false and misleading tactics,” the complaint states. “Defendants convinced Ms. Quinlan to under a proprietary cancer ‘treatment’ in Houston, Texas in lieu of traditional chemotherapy and radiation. Specifically, defendants failed to disclose information about the drugs used during the proprietary cancer ‘treatment’ with the intent to induce Ms. Quinlan into purchasing the drugs at a highly overinflated price.”

The actual legal complaint can be found here, and the details sound depressingly familiar to me (and should to anyone who’s followed the Burzynski saga). It turns out that Quinlan is suing Burzynski for negligent misrepresentation, fraud, conspiracy, and violation of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Here are the allegations contained in the lawsuit:

  1. Dr. Burzynski convinced Ms. Quinlan to undergo a proprietary cancer treatment in lieu of chemotherapy and radiation and that the defendants failed to disclose information about the drugs used in this treatment with the intent to induce Ms. Quinlan into purchasing the drugs at a highly inflated price.
  2. The defendants provided false and misleading information about “gene therapy” that, according to them, lacked the side effects associated with traditional cancer treatments. These treatments were “wholly ineffective and caused even more damage to Ms. Quinlan’s body.” In fact, Quinlan asserts that the treatments gave her a host of side effects that included “weakness, infections, vomiting, fatigue, mouth sores, dizziness, affected taste buds, joint pain and skin sores.”
  3. Dr. Burzynski pitched his antineoplastons to Ms. Quinlan but never disclosed that the treatment was part of a clinical trial. To add the proverbial insult to injury, he never told her that medical insurance wouldn’t pay for the therapy.
  4. Dr. Burzynski’s clinic coerced Ms. Quinlan into purchasing her prescription from Southern Family Pharmacy at “outrageous prices.” She was not allowed to fill the prescriptions anywhere else. It turns out that Southern Family Pharmacy is owned by Stanislaw Burzynski, a fact that was not disclosed to Ms. Quinlan. The price for some medications was $500 per pill, and the pharmacy charged her credit card without her knowledge. Ms. Quinlan later learned that she could have purchased the same medications elsewhere at a fraction of the price.
  5. All defendants conspired to defraud their customers, with an emphasis on defrauding the elderly and cancer patients.

Ms. Quinlan is demanding treble damages under the law because the defendants “acted knowingly and intentionally.” As well she should, if even half of the allegations in her complaint are true. In fact, one of the things that stands out to me in particular is the claim that Burzynski pitched antineoplastons to her and didn’t tell her that it would be part of a clinical trial. This is such an egregious and unforgivable breach of informed consent that, if the allegation is found to be true, the FDA should swoop in and shut the Burzynski Clinic down. No. Strike that. The FDA should investigate again based on this allegation. I’ve often said that I’d very much like to see a copy of the informed consent form that Burzynski requires patients to sign but never really expected to see one, at least not unless a former patient has second thoughts and is willing to send me a copy. Silly me! The reason I will never see such a document is because Burzynski apparently doesn’t show it to patients. One wonders if the consent forms for Burzynski’s “clinical trials’ exist only for show. It’s hard not to suspect that these forms are something Burzynski produces to placate the FDA and to trot out when his clinic is inspected.

It continues to boggle the mind just how Dr. Burzynski can keep getting away with what he’s been getting away with for the last 30 years. Does anyone think Ms. Quinlan is unique, that she’s the only patient whom Burzynski has “used as his personal ATM.” I don’t. If only a fraction of the allegations about Burzynski are true, he is a menace to cancer patients everywhere. I say “everywhere,” of course, because patients travel from all over the world to Houston in order to seek out Dr. Burzynski’s woo at his clinic. As I’ve pointed out, recently there has been a rash of cancer patients flying to Texas from England to seek out Dr. Burzynski’s services, at tens of thousands of dollars a pop. Some of these patients have successfully used various fundraising techniques, up to and including persuading celebrities to do charity fund raising shows for them that have raised hundreds of thousands of pounds.

In addition, as Andy Lewis has pointed out, Dr. Burzynski has friends in high places, including the media and entertainment industry. This results in articles referring to bloggers criticizing Dr. Burzynski as “aggressive, sanctimonious and having a disregard for the facts,” the conspiracy theory-laden crank documentary about Burzynski (Burzynski The Movie: Cancer Is Serious Business) winning the Humanitarian Vision Award at the Newport Beach Film Festival and the Documentary Channel’s “Best of Doc” award. One thing that Andy Lewis might not know, given that he’s from the UK and all and might not follow American politics, is that Burzynski appears to have allies in high places in government in Washington and various states as well, such as Representative Dan Burton and possibly even Governor Rick Perry, to whose campaign Dr. Burzynski has made sizable contributions, who has been rumored to be a sympathetic to Dr. Burzynski, and whom Burzynski’s supporters have been deluging with letters.

On April 11, 2012, the Texas Medical Board will convene hearings that will examine the charges against Dr. Burzynski, which sound a lot like what the complaints in Ms. Quinlan’s lawsuit. We can only hope that, unlike the last time around, this time around the Texas Medical Board finally protects patients and revokes Dr. Burzynski’s license. That’s my opinion and I’m sticking too it.