As Josh Duhamel shills for the Burzynski Clinic, Eric Merola prepares to carpet bomb the blogosphere with nonsense

About a week and a half ago, I noted that the FDA had apparently paid every skeptic’s favorite cancer doctor who is not an oncologist, Stanislaw Burzynski, a visit, while taking notice of a particularly credulous piece of puff journalism that portrayed Dr. Burzynski as a “brave maverick doctor” fighting The Man, who (of course) is trying to keep him down because he has The Natural Cure For Cancer “They” Don’t Want You Sheeple To Know About.

Burzynski, as you recall, is the Houston doctor who claims to have much better results curing incurable cancers than conventional evidence-based treatments, so much so that he either commissioned or cooperated in the production of a movie, Burzynski The Movie: Cancer Is Serious Business, that served basically as one long infomercial for the Burzynski Clinic, with all the distortions, salesmanship, and exaggerations that a typical late night infomercial uses. The movie was made by a man named Eric Merola, a guy whose day job involves making commercials and promotional films; so he was apparently the right man for the right job at the right time, much the way that Leni Riefenstahl was, the main difference being that Merola doesn’t have anywhere near the talent that Riefenstahl did. I then looked into what the Burzynski Clinic does and what Burzynski claims, reading the chapter in Suzanne Somers’ book Knockout describing what he claims to do, reading his papers, watching his promotional videos, and investigating what really happens to his patients compared to what is claimed for them. I found his “personalized gene-targeted therapy” to be more akin to “personalized gene-targeted therapy for dummies,” given his arrogance of ignorance about cancer genetics and biology. It turns out that what happens to a lot of patients at the Burzynski Clinic is truly appalling and that the patients held up as success stories by Burzynski and his sycophants, toadies, and lackeys are not convincing evidence for the efficacy of his treatments, particularly given the lack of published clinical trial evidence.

Over the weekend, I sensed a disturbance in Burzynski shill force, and, sure enough, on Sunday I found out why. First, I became aware of a new PR move on the part of the Burzynski Clinic. I’m not sure when it appeared, but the other day I became aware of a new video on the Burzynski Clinic website:

This video appears to be the result of Burzynski’s new PR man, Wayne Dolcefino. Sadly, when questioned, he doesn’t seem to be up to speed on Burzynski Clinic operations. Either that, or he’s a slicker operator than he first appears.

And, yes, that’s Josh Duhamel the movie star in that video. I guess he’s making a play to be the next Jenny McCarthy, only instead of vaccines he’s going to say stupid things about cancer. Certainly, his level of scientific knowledge and know-how leaves a lot to be desired, as he blathers on at the Burzynski Clinic Christmas party about how “the evidence is there” (it’s not) and gushes about Burzynski as a genius saving lives and being unjustly criticized. At one point Duhamel points to a seven year old girl, Kelsey Hill, saying, “You can’t tell this little girl right over here that this stuff doesn’t work, because nothing else works and she’s still with us.” Actually, yes I can. Hill was featured in the first Burzynski movie, and I deconstructed her case in my review. Given the timing of the administration of the antineoplastons, it’s far more likely that conventional therapy (surgery and other treatments) cured Kelsey Hill than it is that Burzynski’s concoction did anything positive for her. Look to see Josh Duhamel appear in more Burzynski propaganda pieces.

In the meantime, I realized that seeing Josh Duhamel stick his proboscis firmly up Burzynski’s posterior was not enough to explain the disturbance that I was feeling. Then, sure enough, yesterday, our old “friend” Eric Merola sent out a notice that his Burzynski sequel, Burzynski: Cancer Is Serious Business, Part II, is going to be released direct to DVD on March 5, and you—yes, you!—can preorder it for a mere $19.99 plus $4.65 shipping and handling (in the US). Merola was also kind enough to release a new trailer:

Looking at the trailer, I see a whole lot of stupid right from the very beginning. In a way I’m relieved because I’d hate to think that Merola was anything but predictable. The same old gambits play out, in particular the hoary old chestnut favored by cancer quacks the world over, namely the claim that pharmaceutical companies don’t want a cure for cancer but rather want drugs that patients have to take for a long time. One can’t help but note that, even if Burzynski’s therapy, known as antineoplastons, demonstrated significant anticancer efficacy, this description would describe antineoplastons perfectly. After all, if you look at patient blogs, you soon find out that Burzynski’s antineoplaston protocol involves huge doses of his sodium-rich antineoplaston concoction that constitute nearly a 24 hour continuous infusion and that the treatment lasts 18 months, sometimes longer. I don’t know of too many cancer drugs pushed by big pharma that are given over such a long period of time. Tamoxifen, perhaps, which is given for five years (although tamoxifen is long out of patent protections), and aromatase inhibitors, too. Even the very expensive drug Herceptin is usually only given for a year, and there are multiple clinical trials currently ongoing to determine if it can be given for a shorter period of time and produce the same benefit, something I don’t see Stan doing—ever. Later in the trailer, it is direly proclaimed that “in 2013 the industry retaliated—again,” referring to the FDA’s most recent visit to the Burzynski Clinic.

There are also familiar themes from the first Burzynski movie, including claims that the FDA and NCI “gamed the system” because they wanted to shut Burzynski down as a threat to the “cancer industry,” but what really caught my eye was the part of the trailer in which it is claimed that “a group was formed to terrorize and misinform the patients for simply making their own treatment choices.” What follows is incredibly manipulative, showing a famous Burzynski patient, Hannah Bradley, and her partner Pete Cohen lamenting all these people calling Burzynski a “crook or a charlatan,” while Hannah cries at, apparently, just how horribly mean we are to her. Now, I’ve never seen any skeptic attack or abuse a Burzynski patient like Hannah, but clearly that is going to be one accusation that Merola is going to try to make stick.

But not the only one, unfortunately.

Taking the previous trailer and this one together, I know that Burzynski II will likely consist of four elements:

  • Testimonials (or anecdotes), including Hannah’s, of “success stories” coupled with the aforementioned “conversion stories” of oncologists who have become Burzynski believers. These will be contrasted with a rehash of conspiracy theories from the first movie about the “cancer establishment” trying to suppress Burzynski because he is a threat to their profits, as I mentioned above.
  • Attacks on skeptics and critics of Burzynski. If you don’t believe me that it’s probably going to be bad, just read question #12 in Merola’s FAQ), in which he states, “You will notice the ‘anti-Burzynski bloggers refuse to do that or adhere to reputable sources. You might say, they are preying on desperate cancer patients and families of cancer patients by carelessly misleading their readers about Burzynski and his invention.” One marvels at Merola’s amazing level of projection. However, every movie needs a villain, and it doesn’t take psychic abilities to guess whom Merola will portray as villains, particularly given the aforementioned scene of Hannah crying at her treatment by “skeptics.” Yes, I’m guessing that Merola’s going to portray me as part of the group that, according to the trailer, was “formed to terrorize and misinform the patients,” along with Bob Blaskiewicz, Josephine Jones, Keir Liddle, and other bloggers critical of Burzynski. Merola also direly accuses and threatens, “In the worst case scenarios, some bloggers intentionally publish fabricated information to their readers in an attempt to curb new patients from going to the Burzynski Clinic. These individuals are also responsible for ‘gate keeping’ the Wikipedia Page on The Burzynski Clinic. This issue, as well as the identities of those involved, will be covered in great length in the new 2013 ‘Chapter 2’ documentary.” I can hardly wait to see what sort of silliness he will try to represent as nefarious skeptics lying about Burzynski. Actually, I can wait just fine..
  • An attempt to reframe Burzynski’s enormous bills for his antineoplaston therapy and criticism that he’s making clinical trial subjects pay to be in his clinical trials. The new claim is that Burzynski isn’t making patients pay for his antineoplastons (see question #13 in Merola’s FAQ), just for “clinical management” (as if that weren’t incredibly transparent)
  • Vindication. A prominent mention of a supposed randomized clinical trial out of Japan plays prominently, but one wonders why these investigators appeared in Burzynski’s movie before they had published their results.

As I believe I’ve mentioned before, Eric Merola contacted me in December and asked me to appear as a Burzynski critic. After consultation with skeptics with more media savvy than I, not to mention the PR department at my cancer center (whom I thought it wise to give fair warning that one of their faculty might be featured as evil incarnate in a new documentary and to give the background on what it’s all about, in case there were press inquiries), I politely declined. However, from the video above, it is very clear how I and other skeptics will be attacked. While going on and on about how he thinks most of us have “good motives” and how we want to be the white knight riding in to save patients from quackery (a desire he somehow manages to convey with clear dismissiveness and contempt), Merola turns immediately around to claim that we don’t know what we’re talking about and we don’t read the literature. This, of course, is complete nonsense, as I’ve read many of Burzynski’s papers (such as they are), delved into ClinicalTrials.gov to look at his clinical trials, examined the plausibility of his claims from a scientific standpoint, and examined the literature from others, both on antineoplastons and related topics. I’ve dissected Burzynski’s claims for antineoplastons based on science, assessed his “personalized, gene-targeted cancer therapy” claims and found them wanting, and pointed out how what he is peddling isn’t really anything new at all, all based on my knowledge, skills, and understanding of cancer as a breast cancer surgeon and researcher. No doubt that’s why Merola needs to discredit me. Other bloggers who have been critical of Burzynski might not have my scientific background, but they’ve delved deeply into his claims and the evidence for them, and, as I have, they’ve found them highly overinflated and wanting. They’ve also taken on aspects of the Burzynski phenomenon, such what I consider to be his questionable ethics and finding out what happened to a lot of patients who trusted Burzynski, far better than I have. Merola’s dismissal of Burzynski’s critics is, quite frankly, insulting to them and to me.

Merola also makes the unfounded claim that many of the bloggers critical of Burzynski are in the pay of big pharma or work for blogs that are in the pay of big pharma. I know exactly where he got that one from, at least with respect to me; so I’ll deal with it briefly right here and right now. I don’t know what sort of attacks on the UK bloggers who produce the bulk of the skeptical blog posts about Burzynski are coming in Burzynski II, but when it comes to me no doubt Merola is referring to this bit of yellow journalism in 2010 from an antivaccine propagandist named Jake Crosby. Crosby’s entire chain of logic can be summarized in a brief, blisteringly dumb thesis: My university has received grants from Sanofi-Aventis. I also work on the repurposing of a drug originally used to treat amyotropic lateral sclerosis that has anticancer properties that apparently Sanofi-Aventis markets. Even though I haven’t received a penny from Sanofi-Aventis to work on that drug, Crosby inferred that because my university apparently got a significant grant from Sanofi-Aventis my working on that particular drug must indicate a quid pro quo. (Never mind that I didn’t even know my university had gotten any funding from Sanofi-Aventis). Add a bit of conspiracy-mongering about how Sanofi-Aventis vaccines are apparently responsible for the “autism epidemic” and how I’m very much involved in countering the misinformation of the antivaccine movement, throw in a dash of Crosby’s paranoia, and the conspiracy theory writes itself.

it’s clear to me that in this movie, Merola plans to double down on everything he did in the first movie while adding alleged claims of a clinical trial that vindicates Burzynski. I’m referring, of course, to Dr. Hideaki Tsuda, the Japanese anesthesiologist at Kurume University Hospital, who is quoted as saying:

After 27 years of independently testing antineoplastons—including randomized clinical trials, we found that Dr. Burzynski was right. It’s obviously not anecdotal anymore.

In other words, the new tag line is: This time it’s peer-reviewed. Oh, wait. No it isn’t. Tsuda’s alleged trial has not been published in the peer-reviewed literature, which makes me wonder why he’s appearing in Burzynski II touting the results of his study when it hasn’t been published yet. The last study I see from his group is a study from 2005 examining breast cancer cell lines, although there is a case study from 2003 looking at colon cancer that shows mildly promising results. Burzynski’s been claiming he’ll publish the results of his clinical trials for decades now. Tsuda has been collaborating with Burzynski for over 25 years. Am I going to hold my breath waiting for him to publish the results of this randomized clinical trial he’s touting in the trailer? Not really. It’s time for Burzynski and Tsuda to put up or shut up.

It is not time for Burzynski to support films by propagandists like Eric Merola advertised by e-mails that say mind-numbingly idiotic things like:

For most patients undergoing Burzynski’s treatment, their advanced cancer itself runs secondary to the constant barrage of skepticism coming not only from their local oncologists, but also from friends and family who feel their loved ones are making suspect treatment decisions -—even though mainstream oncology has already left many for dead.

That’s right. Skepticism is worse than stage IV cancer because Burzynski is so awesome that the stage IV cancer will be cured! Merola has spoken!

The most hilarious thing in the e-mail, however, is this, which I noticed through Keir Liddle, given that I just skimmed the original e-mail when it came to me:

Since the mapping of the Cancer Genome, Burzynski has pioneered an expansion of his therapy which he calls, “Personalized Gene-Targeted Cancer Therapy”, where each patient’s Genomic Cancer Atlas is mapped and a treatment regimen is personally tailored for each individual patient—vs. the conveyor belt, “one-size-fits-all” approach that current oncology adheres to.

I once commented on the arrogance of ignorance that Burzynski routinely exhibits with respect to cancer genetics, but this takes the cake (unless, Merola came up with this copy, which I doubt—it smells of Burzynski). The “cancer genome” has not been mapped. There is no single “cancer genome.” There are thousands of cancer genomes in thousands of cancers. Right now the NIH has a project it’s undertaken called the Cancer Genome Atlas, which seeks to sequence as many genomes as possible of key cancers selected for poor prognosis and/or overall health impact. These genomes are now downloadable for researchers to study to identify mutations and chromosomal alterations that are associated with specific cancers, with response or resistance to therapy.

Merola doesn’t seem to realize that cancer isn’t a single disease, there isn’t a single “cancer genome,” and cancer is so damned difficult to cure because there are just so many mutations that drive its growth and they might not even be the same mutations in the same tumor. That’s why it’s so hilarious that Merola is implying that “the cancer genome” has been sequenced and that Burzynski is using that information to create his “personalized gene-targeted cancer therapy.” Not only doesn’t Merola (through Burzynski) get the terminology right, but I’ve shown why what Burzynski does is nothing of the sort. Personalized medicine is hard, and Burzynski shows no sign of understanding the issues that make it so hard. Indeed, it’s not oncologists who use “one size fits all” therapies, as Burzynski dismisses conventional oncology. It’s Burzynski, who as far as I’ve ever been able to tell gives everyone antineoplastons. Even when he’s giving them “personalized gene-targeted cancer therapy,” he appears to include in everyone’s regimen a heaping dose of antineoplastons.

His treatment might have some mild antitumor activity due to the HDAC inhibitor activity of one of his antineoplastons, as I discussed here and as has been discussed elsewhere. It’s not a miracle cure, no matter how much Burzynski’s acolytes and shills try to portray it as such. If it were, Burzynski probably wouldn’t need people like Eric Merola and, now, Wayne Dolcefino.