Will Stanislaw Burzynski finally face real justice?

The other day, I suddenly realized that it’s been a long time since I’ve written about the Polish expat doctor in Houston who treats patients with advanced brain cancer with a concoction that he dubbed antineoplastons (ANPs). I’m referring, of course, to Stanislaw Burzynski who, despite the fact that he has no training in medical oncology, has treated thousands of cancer patients with ANPs beginning back in the late 1970s. Somehow, despite the fact that he’s never even come close to showing that ANPs are effective and safe against the cancers for which he uses it, the FDA has, with a brief interruption, continued to let him do his clinical trials, and the Texas Medical Board, despite trying every several years to do so, has failed to strip Burzynski of his medical license. Indeed, when I did a search on this blog to see when the last time I wrote about Burzynski was, I was shocked to discover that it was over a year ago, when one of his patients died.

It’s not because there hasn’t been a lot happening, either. Over a year ago, the Texas Medical Board decided to have another go at Burzynski. Over the last 16 months, what a long, strange trip it’s been. Now, the climax of this effort is fast approaching. Indeed, what reminded me that the climax of this struggle is approaching was an e-mail from one of the several quack email lists to which I subscribe (in this case, The Truth About Cancer), which urged its members to support Burzynski:

In the Weekly Digest that was sent this past Saturday, I mentioned that Dr. Burzynski’s trial was on Tuesday, November 19th, when in fact it’s actually Thursday, November 19th.

Here are all the details again…

As we’ve shared many times before, actually curing cancer would be detrimental to the pharmaceutical industry. So much so that they’re willing to do whatever it takes to silence the doctors as to keep their poisons as the only solutions.

They’re trying to do that now with Dr. Burzynski by revoking his medical license and we need your help.

We’re asking for volunteers in the Austin area to go to the State Office of Administrative Hearings on the morning of Nov 19th and exercise their right to protest these absurd charges and hearings.

It’s 9:00am on Thursday, November 19, 2015, at 300 West 15th Street, Fourth Floor, Austin, Texas. Hearings will continue through November 25, 2015, before recessing until January 19, 2016, when it will reconvene at 9:00am and continue through January 29, 2016, if necessary.

There will be a lot of media attention and we need to show how powerful our voices are and that we will NOT be silenced.

Please arrive at 8:30am and bring signs that read “Dr. Burzynski saves lives” or “Stop persecuting Dr. Burzynski” or whatever else you’re inspired to write.

Unfortunately, I personally will not be able to travel and be in Austin but I’m doing my best to tell everyone I can and I’m hoping you will too. Even if you can’t make it in person, please tell everyone you can on Facebook and other social media sites.

Hopefully, if you’re in Austin (or inspired to travel there) you can go and represent our movement in a powerful way.

Thank you for your consideration.

Ty Bollinger

It’s like a replay of the 1990s and just last year. If there’s one way Burzynski is very predictable it’s in his response to investigation and criticism. Whenever Burzynski is in trouble or his practice is actually threatened, he cynically uses desperate cancer patients as “human shields” against government investigation. He did it in the 1990s, when Burzynski was being prosecuted for 75 counts of insurance fraud and violations of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act. It was cynical political theater featuring media appearances of the weeping parents of children with deadly brain tumors, national press stories about demonstrations by patients chanting, “FDA go away! Let me live another day!” It worked back then, although I note that at the time Rep. Joe Barton (R-Dallas) was also putting intense pressure on the FDA, dragging then-FDA Director David Kessler in front of his committee multiple times to harangue him about his “persecution” of Burzynski. The FDA told Burzynski that he could administer ANPs, but only under the auspices of an approved clinical trial. So, urged by his lawyer Richard Jaffe, Burzynski cynically submitted 72 clinical trial protocols to use ANPs to treat pretty much any cancer he wanted to treat, and the FDA approved them all. In the intervening 16 years from 1997 to 2013, Burzynski enrolled patients on his clinical trials and charged them enormous “case management” fees for the privilege, even though doing so is completely unethical.

Of course, two years ago, Burzynski’s clinical trials were placed on partial clinical hold after the death of Josia Cotto of hypernatremia (very high sodium levels in the blood, a known complication of ANP treatment). In the wake of that decision, Burzynski went back to the tactic that had served him so well, mobilizing his patient base to do the same thing it did in the 1990s. Not long after that, the FDA gave in and let him begin his clinical trials again, albeit with conditions. Specifically, Burzynski had to provide ANPs for free, and he couldn’t be the one administering the cocktail. Then, last year, the FDA lifted all restrictions on Burzynski’s clinical trials. Burzynski had won again, but not long after that, the Texas Medical Board acted to strip Burzynski of his license.

The TMB’s 200 page complaint documents the charges that Burzynski misled patients by:

  • By making patients pay a retainer before receiving any diagnosis or treatment.
  • By performing unnecessary tests and “non-therapeutic treatment” with no potential to help them.
  • By imposing “exorbitant charges” for drugs and lab tests, without telling patients that he also owned the pharmacy and lab being used.
  • By allowing unlicensed staff to treat patients, while describing the staff as doctors.

Burzynski was also charged with prescribing unapproved combinations of toxic chemotherapy. As I’ve documented before many times on this blog, in addition to ANPs, Burzynski routinely ordered “make it up as you go along” cocktails of expensive targeted therapies that he described as “personalized, gene-targeted therapy” and I described as “personalized, gene-targeted therapy for dummies.”

A nice (and, unlike an Orac post, brief) summary of what’s been happening in the case over the last several months can be found here. Basically, as is commonly the situation in cases like this, there have been a number of motions and countermotions. In March, the judge rejected a large number of Burzynski’s motions to suppress evidence brought by the TMB, including testimony by FDA inspectors, FDA inspection documents, and the testimony of a former employee, the last of which looked to be particularly damaging to his defense.

Perhaps the most interesting and unexpected aspect of this whole case occurred over the summer, and when I say “unexpected,” I really mean it. Remember Richard Jaffe, whom I mentioned earlier and who was the architect of Burzynski’s wildly successful strategy of submitting over 70 clinical trials to the FDA, a strategy that served as the basis for Burzynski’s reputation and increasing wealth over the better part of the last 20 years. It was a strategy that didn’t start to fall apart until the partial clinical hold was placed on his clinical trials and Burzynski was forced to substitute his far less popular “personalized gene-targeted therapy.” The reason it was far less popular is because ANPs, for whatever reason, were viewed among the alternative cancer cure crowd as being a “natural” treatment for cancer (presumably because they were originally isolated from urine and blood) while Burzynski’s “personalized gene-targeted therapy” consisted of cocktails of expensive targeted therapies made by pharmaceutical companies. It turns out that Jaffe is no longer Burzynski’s lawyer, even though he had been working for Burzynski for decades. As Skeptics for the Protection of Cancer Patients drolly noted, we skeptics all thought that Jaffe would be buried in the Burzynski family crypt, so tight were Burzynski and Jaffe for so many years.

Apparently not any more.

How this shocking situation came about is not entirely clear, but it appears to involve—gasp!—enormous unpaid legal bills. Basically, a new lawyer, Dan Cogdell, started filing motions for Burzynski. It turns out that Cogdell was part of Burzynski’s legal team before. In any caes, the judge became concerned that it was late in the game to be switching lawyers; so another administrative law judge heard Jaffe’s explanation in private and ruled that Jaffe had to withdraw from the case. Per Judge Suzanne Marshall’s finding, Jaffe’s continued representation would violate the mandatory withdrawal provision of Rule 1.15. This provision reads:

A lawyer ordinarily must decline employment if the employment will cause the lawyer to engage in conduct that the lawyer knows is illegal or that violates the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct. Rule 1.15(a)(1); cf. Rules 1.02(c), 3.01, 3.02, 3.03, 3.04, 3.08, 4.01, and 8.04. Similarly, paragraph (a)(1) of this Rule requires a lawyer to withdraw from employment when the lawyer knows that the employment will result in a violation of a rule of professional conduct or other law. The lawyer is not obliged to decline or withdraw simply because the client suggests such a course of conduct; a client may have made such a suggestion in the ill-founded hope that a lawyer will not be constrained by a professional obligation. Cf. Rule 1.02(c) and (d).

Whoa. That’s some heavy stuff. Jaffe withdrew because he was concerned that his continue representation of Burzynski would somehow result in his violating a rule of professional conduct or other law. What could this mean? The explanation came when Jaffe withdrew from representing Stanislaw Burzynski’s son, Greg Burzynski and gave the following reason:

Respondent is a vice president and an employed physician at the Burzynski cancer clinic in Houston. The clinic is owned by Respondent’s father, Stanislaw R. Burzynski. Undersigned counsel had represented Stanislaw Burzynski in a related SOAH board case.

Undersigned counsel is taking legal action against Respondent’s employer which might have a material adverse effect on Respondent’s interests as an officer and employed physician at the clinic. As a result of such action, undersigned counsel will likely have a conflict of interest with Respondent, at least until the anticipated legal action is resolved.

In other words, Jaffe is suing Burzynski. But why? It turns out that Burzynski owes Jaffe nearly a quarter of a million dollars, and Burzynski hasn’t paid.

I tried not to go into too much detail in this post (which, as regular readers know, is hard for me) because a lot of the legal wrangling and back-and-forth comes across as too “inside baseball.” It doesn’t help that I’m not a lawyer and don’t understand a lot of it. The bottom line is that, despite attempts by Burzynski’s new lawyer’s attempts to ask for a continuance based on the claim that Richard Jaffe sabotaged Burzynski’s case before he withdrew, barring some sudden and very unexpected development, the hearing is going to begin as scheduled on Thursday. We know from Ty Bollinger’s e-mail blast quoted above that there will be Burzynski supporters demonstrating. What would make this trial different from Burzynski’s previous trials and legal tribulations would be if it weren’t just his supporters demonstrating for a change. Unfortunately I can’t be there, but I know there are skeptics and supporters of science-based medicine in the Austin area. I also know that it’s a tough thing to do.

They say that every story needs a victim, a hero, and a villain. I know that Burzynski’s people, particularly his chief propagandist Eric Merola, producer and director of two execrable bits of hero worship of Burzynski committed to celluloid, have done their best to paint the cancer patients as victims and Burzynski as the hero, with skeptics like you and I being the villains. This is a portrayal at odds with reality because, in reality, it is Burzynski who is the villain taking advantage of cancer victims,. Unfortunately, it’s a hard sell to convince others of this when faced with suffering cancer patients and families who honestly and truly believe that Burzynski is their last hope.

Still, I hope that skeptics will contact Skeptics for the Protection of Cancer Patients at [email protected] or at the group’s website or Facebook page and find out how they can help. Burzynski has survived doing what he does for over 38 years now, while I’ve been following his case for only around five years. Over just that five years, I became quite disheartened at Burzynski’s seemingly undefeatable ability to evade justice and keep doing what he’s doing, FDA and TMB be damned. This time around, I feel an optimism that I haven’t felt in a long time about the prospects of finally shutting Burzynski down and preventing him from preying on desperate cancer patients any more.