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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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November 29, 2011

The Burzynski Cancer Treatment

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Posted by Derek

There seems to have been a recent surge in interest in the Burzynski cancer therapy in the UK. A family publicly raised a good deal of money to have their daughter flown over to Texas for the treatment, and this seems to have raised the profile of the clinic quite a bit over there.

But Dr. Burzynski and his therapy have been around for decades, and not everyone has been pleased with their results. Orac over at Respectful Insolence has (as you'd expect!) taken up this topic before, and for background I definitely suggest reading his piece. Quackwatch also has background. Put together, it seems that no one has been able to replicate Burzynski's results, despite many attempts. This does not appear to have slowed down his acceptance of patients, nor his billing of them.

Perhaps the best single reference I can give for Burzynski and his associates, though, is this blog from Wales. Rhys Morgan, a high school student, wrote earlier this year about his misgivings about all the UK publicity and fund-raising to send patients to the clinic, and for his pains he was treated to some good old-fashioned legal scare tactics. I'm glad to see that he's standing up to these, and it appears to me as if he's been giving good legal advice in doing so. From his post, it seems that the same law firm is sending out such letters to other people who've written unfavorably about the Burzynski Clinic, and has this ever been a good sign?

It would appear that Dr. Burzynski has had a good deal of time, and numerous opportunities, to provide convincing data to back up his claims. Instead, he seems to have spent his efforts at expanding the definition of the phrase "clinical trial" in response to a court order - and in sending lawyers after people who point such things out. Personally, in my review of the literature, I have seen no reason to disagree with the American Cancer Society's opinion that the value, if any, of the Burzynski therapy has not been established, and I would add that this is still the state of affairs 35 years after his initial publications.

If anyone has anything that might change my mind about that - and I'd prefer data, not legal threats - I'd be glad to review it. But you'd think that the convincing evidence would already be out there by now. 1976!

Comments (16) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Cancer | Snake Oil


1. Sleepless in SSF on November 29, 2011 1:25 PM writes...

Interestingly, Cory Doctorow from Boing Boing is trying to draw the attention of Burzynski's "lawyer" (there seems to be some doubt as to the status of his relationship with the Texas bar).

It looks to me as if BB is trying to get their own letter, as they seem to relish defending themselves against dubious legal threats.

I will say that the letter from said lawyer posted on BB seems rather, um, unlettered.

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2. DCRogers on November 29, 2011 1:29 PM writes...

Derek, are you trolling for legal letters now?

Anyhow, I can't believe that making people pay to be in a "clinical trial" is legal.

Doesn't a real trial have to post their protocol openly? Do we at least know the phase I/II/III they're in? Or would it be too much of a shock for people to find they might be paying thousands to be assigned to the placebo arm?

Might be safer for them, at least.

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3. NoDrugsNoJobs on November 29, 2011 3:46 PM writes...

You would think with all the rules and regs these days that such things really couldn't take place openly. I guess that if somebody is brazen and open enough, it actually can take a long time to shut them down (or up). The law tends to work best on those spirits easily intimidated into cooperating but for those with a high degree of confidence and a large amount of brazeness, it can be pretty difficult. Most folks get a warning letter or whatever and head for the hills. Sometimes I wonder what would happen if my kids just went totally nuts and refused to do anything I wanted them to....oh wait, they already have done that and its true, there is not a lot you can do if their tolerance to consequences is relatively high.

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4. BlueFish on November 29, 2011 4:17 PM writes...

"He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies"
Worked for ,or indoctrinated?
Creating diseases and myths would better suit your talents Derek Lowe. The same great minds that have created mythical diseases, and even better, more lucrative cure$.

If I seem like a troller to you, perhaps you could better inform me why your comments should be construed as true?

Or even have merit?

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5. Handles on November 29, 2011 5:52 PM writes...

Lol @ BlueFish
"lucrative cure$" is the funniest example of Freudian projection Ive seen in some time.

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6. DCRogers on November 29, 2011 6:47 PM writes...

After reading a number of articles about this at a number of blogs, one of the most impressive things has been the almost universal appearance of name-shifting sock-puppets, alternately defending the clinic and denigrating any critical commentary.

I am assuming there is a third-party you can hire for this service now.

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7. Wile E. Coyote, Genius on November 29, 2011 7:16 PM writes...

For some interesting reading, go to the FDA website and plug in the clinic's name to the FDA search engine and see what comes up. If you look at the investigation reports, he has been cited for failing to report adverse effects, treating before approval of an IND, and inadequate informed consent, among others. Clearly quakery and skirting the law. This is one where they should be shut down.

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8. james on November 29, 2011 8:41 PM writes...

Yeah, it's a tough one.

Seems Patrick Swayze wasn't too happy about that oxygen deprivation treatment either.

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9. james on November 29, 2011 8:48 PM writes...

"If anyone has anything that might change my mind about that - and I'd prefer data, not legal threats - I'd be glad to review it. But you'd think that the convincing evidence would already be out there by now. 1976!"

This is what I dug up, but I only looked for a couple of hours.

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10. jimbo on November 29, 2011 9:03 PM writes...

"Burzynski:the movie" would be a good place to start your research if you like conspiracy theory!

available on netflix

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11. imatter on November 29, 2011 11:08 PM writes...

I recommend the movie "Burzynski". I caught it in Netflix Instant Watch. There's a conspiracy theory feel to it.

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12. DCRogers on November 30, 2011 10:42 AM writes...


I rest my case.

The use of a link to another sock-puppet post is an interesting way to try to add gravitas, however.

And to the owner of the puppetry, I refer you to the reply given in Arkell and Pressdram.

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13. partial agonist on November 30, 2011 11:22 AM writes...

Burzynski seems to be the one with the keen interest in lucrative cure$, or more accurately, lucrative placebo$

Maverick? baloney.
Shameless profiteer? check.

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14. David Young, MD on November 30, 2011 10:41 PM writes...

I recall that during the mid 90's and early 00's that the "Clinical Trials" book that we received quarterly had a phase II trial of antineoplastons for practically every cancer. I imagine that few people signed up to participate, but over a 10 to 12 year period, one would imagine that enough patient signed up to get some idea of how well antineoplastins worked. Now, many years later, I don't know of any reports of success in the common cancers: lung, breast, colon, prostate, lymphoma et al. Apparently there was some success in an exceedingly rare CNS tumor of young childhood. Now this is curious. One finds all kinds of reports of CNS tumors responding to alternative care treatments (Just look up Hoxey and the Gerson clinics) and it makes me think that these are all false positive reports. It is very difficult to judge recurrence in CNS tumors after surgery and/or radiotherapy, and I can imagine that patients who have thought to relapse (but didn't) could be thought to respond to antineoplastins when in fact they never did relapse. Having this one rare CNS tumor be the only "positive" study outcome from antineoplastons makes me very skeptical. I don't know the full story of the other phase II studies on antineoplastins, but this one childhood CNS tumor result has been bragged about by Bruzynksi as "proof." I think it is anything but proof.

As an oncologist, I met one man who was going through the antineoplastin therapy. He had pretty good records of what treatment he had. It was interesting to note that he never received antineoplastins alone. He always had regular chemotherapy at the same time. (although at somewhat lower doses than normal.) So, when his cancer got a little better, it was credited to the antineoplastins working. Now this is my only encounter with a person getting Bruzynski's treatment, but if this is typical of his treatment program, then one could imagine a number of people getting better from time to time due to the chemotherapy treatment, and yet he could boast of how it was his antineoplastin treatment that succeeded. In fact, this could explain all of the patients who did actually improve.

After 35 years, you would think that he could show hundreds of x ray scans that demonstrated meaningful regression of tumors on antineoplastins alone.... that is, if antineoplastins actually worked. Having no evidence to show makes me a real skeptic.

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15. Buck Naked on December 2, 2011 6:10 AM writes...

Watching that nonsense of a video, the irony of Burzynski trying to silence his critics by using the legal system is fantastic.

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16. Nile on December 3, 2011 9:27 AM writes...

Simon Singh's legal team are involved - the people who overturned a notorious libel conviction for describing patent quackery as 'bogus'.

I wouldn't wish a lawsuit on the young blogger who has attracted this attention, but if Burzynski takes it to court we may see a significant consolidation of our gains against the legal censorship of free speech in England.

Also involved: major figures in the blogosphere - BoingBoing, Stephen Fry, Charlie Stross. This is the Streisand Effect, writ large.

Also, the lad Rhys Morgan deserves the attention - his blog post, his research, and his calm and measured response to the quasi-legal demands are damn' good work.

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