The central mystery of Stanislaw Burzynski is how he keeps managing, no matter what is thrown at him by state and federal medical authorities, to keep on treating patients with deadly cancers. He’s like the Energizer Bunny; he just keeps going and going and going and going. Or maybe he’s like the game Whac-A-Mole™, where, as soon as one strategy seems on the verge of shutting him down he pops up elsewhere with another angle.
Burzynski, as regular readers know, is the Houston doctor (I refuse to call him a cancer doctor, because he has no formal training in oncology or even board certification in internal medicine) who for the last 36 years has been treating patients with compounds to which he refers as “antineoplastons” (ANPs) Back in the mid-1970s, he claimed to have discovered these compounds in the blood and urine and that they are the body’s natural defenses against cancer, inhibiting cancer growth. Thirty-six years later, and more than 15 years after starting six dozen clinical trials for the express purpose of bypassing a judge’s order that he could not administer ANPs to anyone who was not on an FDA-approved clinical trial. Indeed, it was a blatant ploy, as Burzynski’s lawyer, Richard Jaffe, acknowledged, referring to one of his clinical trials as a “joke” and the others as a way to make sure there was a constant supply of new cancer patients to the Burzynski Clinic. A decade and a half later, Burzynski has only completed one of those clinical trials and has not published the results of a single one. Most recently, he was presenting some clinical results at the Society of Neuro-Oncology meeting a couple of weeks ago, but he still hasn’t published a complete clinical trial. I rather suspect he never will.
Last month, Liz Szabo published an expose of the Burzynski Clinic for USA TODAY that detailed his many abuses of science, patients, and clinical trials. It was astounding. Not only did he misclassify tumor responses, fail to report adverse events properly, fail to provide proper informed consent, and charge enormous sums of money to patients on clinical trials as “case management” fees. She also described why all those anecdotes and testimonials provided by patients of Burzynski’s patients are not valid evidence that Burzynski’s treatments work. Even so, despite the negative publicity, Burzynski has still managed to line up more patients to try to pressure the FDA to grant compassionate use exemption for ANPs. The stories made me think that maybe we should rename Burzynski Dracula, given how much he sounds like Dracula and seemingly his clinic and its ANPs can’t be killed.
Maybe two more stakes will take care of it. A few hours ago, the FDA issued two more warning letters to the Burzynski Research Institute and Stanislaw Burzynski, as documented in USA TODAY last night:
In letters to Burzynski and his research institute posted online Wednesday, the FDA says that Burzynski inflated success rates for experimental drugs that he calls antineoplastons. The FDA also says Burzynski failed to report side effects and to prevent patients from repeatedly overdosing.
But when the FDA asked to see the child’s medical files, Burzynski sent the agency records that were different than those stored in his office, giving the appearance that the records had been altered, according to the warning.
D’oh! This part is worth quoting in full:
You have failed to maintain and retain accurate case histories as required in all cases of expanded access. Specifically, you failed to maintain and retain accurate case histories for Patient 022387, whom you treated under a Single Patient Protocol (individual patient expanded access), also referred to as a Special Protocol Exception, to Protocol BT-10.
In response to a (b)(6), FDA’s Division of Oncology Products 2 (DOP 2) requested that the sponsor, Burzynski Research Institute (BRI), provide DOP 2 with copies of the records for Patient 022387.
On (b)(6), BRI provided DOP 2 with copies of the following records for Patient 022387:
- Case Report Form titled “Physical Exam – Baseline,” for physical examination conducted on (b)(6)
- Case Report Form titled “Baseline Visit – Prior Cancer Treatment History”
- Case Report Form titled “Baseline Visit – Pathology History”
- Case Report Form titled “Adverse Events”
The records BRI submitted to FDA on (b)(6), were not in the files that you provided regarding Patient 022387 during the inspection. However, during the inspection, you provided other Case Report Forms for this patient, with the same titles and for the same visit date as noted above, but containing information that differed from that which BRI submitted to FDA. Notable differences are contained in the following tables.
We recognize that the Form FDA 483 issued to you does not include this as an observation and, therefore, your written response did not address this issue.
Please explain why the Case Report Forms at your site for Patient 022387 differed from the Case Report Forms that Burzynski Research Institute submitted to FDA’s Division of Oncology Products 2.
Failure to maintain and retain accurate case histories raises concerns about subject safety and data integrity, as well as concerns about the adequacy of safeguards in place at your site to protect patients being treated under expanded access.
Yes, you read that right. The FDA investigators who visited the Burzynski Clinic and Burzynski Research Institute from January to March 2013 looked at the medical records of a child who suffered an adverse event. Then the FDA’s Division of Oncology Products asked for copies of the patient’s records. The copies provided to the DOP 2 didn’t match the copies that the investigators looked at. Is that suspicious? Hell, yes! Does it raise suspicions that the Burzynski Clinic tampered with patient records? Hell, yes, it does! Is there potentially an innocent explanation? Possibly, but this is Burzynski we’re talking about. It’s not as though he deserves the benefit of the doubt. In fact, he most certainly does not. Still not convinced. Then consider this. The patient in question here is Josia Cotto, the child who died of massive hypernatremia (elevated serum sodium levels) caused by antineoplaston treatment. Yes, the different sets of records were maintained on a child with a terminal brain tumor whose life was cut even shorter because Burzynski’s treatment killed him.
Much of the rest of the two letters addressed the FDA’s finding that the responses of the Burzynski Clinic to the original two warning letters from this year were inadequate. As I predicted when I discussed the Burzynski Clinic’s response to those clinics in detail, the FDA wasn’t buying what Burzynski was selling when it came to his excuses for his numerous violations of FDA regulations and regulations designed to protect the safety and rights of subjects participating in clinical trials. Truly, as I said, hilarity ensued. Unfortunately for Burzynski the FDA didn’t find his explanations funny at all.
As you might recall, Burzynski tried to justify his misclassification of responses to therapy by playing fast and loose with the guidelines for classifying responses as either complete responses (CR), partial responses (PR), stable disease (SD), or progressive disease (PD). A lot of what Burzynski tried to argue was that because the guidelines for determining response in brain tumors changed a few years ago in order to incorporate observations of whether the patient is on steroids while under treatment, and more importantly, whether that dose of steroids was stable, increasing, or decreasing, rather than looking only at pure tumor size on imaging studies. The FDA wouldn’t have any of it, and rightly so. For example:
We note that the examples cited above are consistent with two previously treated subjects from Protocol BT-10 and Protocol BT-22 (which had the same criteria as Protocol BT-10 regarding classification of Stable Disease). For Subject 005974 in Protocol BT-10, the Tumor Measurements CRF indicates, based on MRIs taken on January 12, 1999, and April 6, 1999, that the subject had less than 50% change in tumor size compared to baseline, and that this state was maintained for a minimum of 12 weeks. However, the Steroids Report CRF shows that the subject was not on either a stable or decreasing dose of corticosteroids. Therefore, the subject did not meet the criteria for Stable Disease.
Your responses noted in the preceding paragraphs are inadequate. The protocols required specific consideration of corticosteroid use. In addition, the definition of “a patient off corticosteroids” that you stated you followed, was not included in any of the protocols listed above.
We acknowledge that the use of corticosteroids to maintain physiologic levels may be appropriate, despite protocol wording requiring that subjects be off corticosteroids completely for a Complete Response. However, for all of the subjects listed above as having been classified as a Complete Response despite being on corticosteroids, their corticosteroid doses were well beyond those needed to maintain physiologic levels. Specifically, these subjects were on doses of Decadron (dexamethasone, a corticosteroid) that ranged from 4 mg/day to 16 mg/day, while the physiologic-replacement equivalent of Decadron is in the range of 0.25 mg/day to 0.75 mg/day.
Any physicians out there will know that a dose of 16 mg/day of decadron is a fairly hefty dose. In fact, 16 mg/d is a typical dose for cerebral edema, otherwise known as brain swelling, which is the very reason why patients with brain tumors get steroids in the first place, to reduce swelling in response to the tumor. Usually, the dose is 10 mg as a first dose and then 4 mg every six hours until the cerebral edema subsides, usually within 24 hours, after which the dose is usually tapered over 2-4 days. For a patient to be on 16 mg/d of Decadron implies either the treatment of acute cerebral edema or a whopping chronic dose far above physiologic replacement levels. So, either the patients in question were undergoing treatment for acute cerebral edema or Burzynski had these patients on huge regular doses of steroids. This basically blows Burzynski’s tap dancing around the issue of his misclassifying various responses by claiming that patients were on stable or decreasing doses of steroids out of the water.
As for the rest of the FDA findings, in these two new FDA warning letters, it’s hard not to note that perhaps the most common phrases used are all variations of “Your written response noted above is not adequate.” This is understandable, of course, because, as I described last time, Burzynski’s explanations just weren’t convincing to anyone who knows anything about how clinical trials should be run. For example, the FDA noted that Burzynski did not provide adequate informed consent because the informed consent forms didn’t contain a statement regarding additional costs that patients might incur from participating in the research, other than vague generalities. More importantly, patients were only presented with a billing agreement after they had already consented to participate in Burzynski’s clinical trials. This is exactly backwards; the patients should know what expenses they might incur up front, before they sign anything related to the clinical trial.
Worse, even though the FDA didn’t mention it in these letters, it is generally the practice that patients shouldn’t have to pay for expenses incurred because of a clinical trial. Normal medical expenses related to standard-of-care treatment of their condition can be billed to third party payers, just like any other medical expense, but charges related only to the clinical trial (i.e., charges that the patient would not have otherwise incurred if he or she weren’t on the clinical trial) should be paid by the entity funding the clinical trial.
I could go on, but the specifics are laid out pretty clearly in the FDA letters. You don’t have to have a deep understanding of how clinical trials work to be able to understand why what Burzynski did was wrong and how it violated rules designed to protect patients who participate in clinical trials. The question you probably have (I know I do) is: What’s next? What can the FDA do at this point.
One thing that the FDA can do it’s already done. That’s to put a partial clinical hold on the research protocol in question or the institution carrying out the protocol. This is usually done to protect human life when regular investigative channels would be too slow. Indeed, this is exactly what the FDA nearly a year and a half ago in the wake of the death of a child, Josia Cotto, of hypernatremia (elevated sodium) due to ANPs. It put a partial clinical hold on ANPs, such that no new pediatric patients could be enrolled in Burzynski’s clinical trials, although existing patients could continue to receive the drug. This partial clinical hold was then extended to adults early this year. The FDA can even bring criminal prosecution, but that is rare. However, if there’s anyone who deserves an FDA criminal prosecution, it’s Stanislaw Burzynski.
Given how unresponsive Burzynski has been and how he hasn’t adequately moved to correct the violations noted by the FDA, the most obvious next thing the FDA can do is to move to disqualify Burzynski from conducting any more studies regulated by the FDA. It can also terminate an investigator’s IND (investigational new drug) application. Why the FDA hasn’t done either of these things yet with ANPs, I still can’t understand, but it hasn’t. We can only hope that this latest round of investigation and findings is the cattle prod that’s needed to get the FDA to act, but after 16 years or so I’m not holding my breath. Certainly, Burzynski qualifies as having “repeatedly or deliberately violated FDA regulations,” which could justify such an administrative action. He’s also arguably “deliberately submitted to FDA or to the sponsor false information in any required report.” Indeed, here are the grounds for revoking an IND:
(i) Human subjects would be exposed to an unreasonable and significant risk of illness or unjury.
(ii) The IND does not contain sufficient information required under 312.23 to assess the safety to subjects of the clinical investigations.
(iii) The methods, facilities, and controls used for the manufacturing, processing, and packing of the investigational drug are inadequate to establish and maintain appropriate standards of identity, strength, quality, and purity as needed for subject safety.
(iv) The clinical investigations are being conducted in a manner substantially different than that described in the protocols submitted in the IND.
(v) The drug is being promoted or distributed for commercial purposes not justified by the requirements of the investigation or permitted by 312.7.
(vi) The IND, or any amendment or report to the IND, contains an untrue statement of a material fact or omits material information required by this part.
(vii) The sponsor fails promptly to investigate and inform the Food and Drug Administration and all investigators of serious and unexpected adverse experiences in accordance with 312.32 or fails to make any other report required under this part.
(viii) The sponsor fails to submit an accurate annual report of the investigations in accordance with 312.33.
(ix) The sponsor fails to comply with any other applicable requirement of this part, part 50, or part 56.
(x) The IND has remained on inactive status for 5 years or more.
(xi) The sponsor fails to delay a proposed investigation under the IND or to suspend an ongoing investigation that has been placed on clinical hold under 312.42(b)(4).
Burzynski has arguably met several of the above conditions, specifically i, iv, v, vi, and vii. Yet his IND still stands. It would be one thing if these were the first violations. Federal regulations for FDA approval, the conduct of clinical trials, and human subjects protection can be complex, and even the best can sometimes stumble. Burzynski, however, is not the best, and this is far from the first time that he’s been found in violation of FDA regulations. In particular, he’s been dinged time and time again for a sloppily run institutional review board, as well as deficiencies reporting adverse events. FDA investigations and findings of violations are not a new thing for the Burzynski Research Institute. He’s had numerous warning letters since 2000. Yet, his IND for ANPs and his clinical trials continue to stand.
The issue that continues to haunt me is: How? Why? How does Burzynski continue to get away with it. As much as I’d like to think that these two new warning letters and the FDA’s resounding rejection of Burzynski’s lame excuses for his actions will finally—finally!—spell the end of the Burzynski saga, or at least of the saga of how he subverted and abused the clinical trials process, given that I fully expect Burzynski to bolt the country once his ANP operation is finally shut down once and for all, I’m under no illusion that they are. The FDA has been a paper tiger, guilty of gross dereliction of duty. Ever since powerful legislators like Joe Barton harassed the FDA for trying to do its job and shut Burzynski down in the 1990s, the FDA seems to have been once bitten, twice shy, failing utterly in its duty. I sincerely hope that this is indeed the beginning of the end of the FDA’s fear of Burzynski and his allies and, even more importantly, the beginning of the end of Burzynski’s abuse of clinical trials to enrich himself.
35 replies on “The drip, drip, drip, drip of FDA findings against Stanislaw Burzynski continues”
Well, I sincerely do hope he won’t bolt back to Poland. And if he does, I’ll be first to write to the media about him and his dubious practices.
Well, this throws a wrench into what the Refael Elisha Cohen family was told, that “the FDA is nearing approval to resume this treatment”. Reminds me of how he has been on the verge of getting the Nobel prize for decades now. The man is deluded.
The FDA’s 1990s episodes would perhaps be better characterized as “twice bitten, never shy”. Now they are careful, feeding rope an inch at a time.
After over three decades in Houston, sounds like Stan is going to upgrade his mariachi band selection at dinner.
They seemed pretty savage on the financial front, all the same: ¶ 2, BRI letter:
“BRI failed to obtain financial information for each of the 122 sub-investigators participating in Protocols BT-09, BT-10, BT-21, and BT-22. There was no financial information for 40 sub-investigators for BT-09; 34 sub-investigators for BT-10; 40 sub-investigators for BT-21; and 8 sub-investigators for BT-22. BRI’s April 5, 2013 written response indicated that BRI considered it unnecessary to obtain financial disclosures from these sub-investigators (all of whom were subjects’ or patients’ local physicians) because there were no financial relationships to disclose.”
¶ 3, to Count Scamula:
“Your proposed amended wording is not adequate because it focuses primarily on whether there is a charge for the investigational agent; contains only general statements regarding the possibility of additional costs; and puts the responsibility on the subject to inquire about any expected added costs, rather than providing the subject with specific additional costs that may result from participation in the research. In contrast, the treatment billing agreement identifies the specific additional costs the subject will be expected to pay as a result of participating in the research.” (Emphasis added.)
I’m not seeing a clear way around that’s not being tantamount to accusing Burzynski of having had the gall to plainly propose a modified fraud scheme as a response to a regulatory body.
I’ve been reading over Orac’s past posts. I do believe that a parent whose daughter underwent treatment at the Burzynski clinic and who posted a bunch of comments about BRI’s billing practices, is one of those who made a complaint to the FDA. Good for that parent, who was left in a very precarious financial state, by the greedy bastard Burzynski.
It is high time that the Texas Medical Board takes action, to shut down the charlatan and his quack practice, once and for all.
[…] The drip, drip, drip, drip of FDA findings against Stanislaw Burzynski continues Orac, Respectful Insolence, 12/12/13 […]
The stories made me think that maybe we should rename Burzynski Dracula, given how much he sounds like Dracula and seemingly his clinic and its ANPs can’t be killed.
Maybe two more stakes will take care of it.
I want to be optimistic, I do…a lot of woo-meisters have had things thrown at them and are reduced to shadows flitting in and out of public, feeding off desperate people hoping for a miracle, like *Sauron reference here*
The difference here is there is a person who not only has gamed the system, but has a lawyer who jovially admits it, and the system has failed to rise to the occasion. And unfortunately, he’ll always have supporters.
One thing I do wonder, has he convinced himself it works, or is he honestly that evil?
I don’t think that you have anything to worry about: Mexico is much closer, already attracts alt med clients’ money and he probably has become used to warm weather in Texas.
AnObservingParty: I am of the opinion that he is honestly that evil. I don’t think he thinks the stuff is definitely useless; I don’t think he much cares whether or not its useful. All he cares is whether or not he can convince people to take it. He’s a sociopath is what he is.
He is definitely pure evil. Also peddles miracle anti-aging toothpaste and claims ANP can cure HIV.
All he cares about is getting rich. It’s all he ever cared about.
He literally deserves the death penalty for what he’s done to hundreds of children. At least all the dead adults made their own choice.
He’s a monster. Been akin to a legalised serial killer for nearly 40 years.
I suppose I rather see him move to Antarctica. At least those penguins aren’t able to give him money.
Burzynski has initiated more than 60 ‘clinical trials’ ove the past 3 decades, and even if he hasn’t published the results he himself must know what they’ve shown.
If they show that ANP’s aren’t effective and he continues to charge desparate people exorbitant fees to receive them, he’s a fraud.
If, on the other hnd, they show ANP’s are effective but he’s withholding the proof so his clinic can maintain a lucrative monopoly on the treatment (and by doing so preventing it from being adoptedas a standard of care, denying the thousands of cancer victims around the world who can’t raise the funds to travel to Texas and be treated at his clinic access to a cure for their disease) he’s a monster.
So–evil either way.
If you want to help end this nightmare, please visit thehoustoncancerquack.com and throw your weight around!
Just left a review of the clinic on Google Maps. Shame there’s no zero star rating.
Adding to JGC’s comment #12, Dr. Burzynsky’s defenders may say that he is trying his best, to which I would note that this is a very weak defense, given his total lack of peer-reviewed publications and very lengthy clinical trial period. This defense would include a third possibility, neither outright fraud nor monster, but at best merely incompetent in practicing medicine and overly stubborn to drop a useless drug. However, I do not believe it.
“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” – Upton Sinclair
Burzinsky has taken a lot of money from patients in a fraudulent manner, as documented by the FDA. Even if he were competent at getting rich and incompetent at all other math (i.e. statistics of patient care), he could damned well afford to hire better people to tell the truth about the results of his so-called clinical trials, if he wanted to do so. Instead, he spends money hiring legal obfuscation and delay. Yes, JGC, I agree- evil either way.
re: the resources at thehoustoncancerquack.com – An update to the boilerplate letter to one’s Congressperson to reflect the latest letter from the FDA would be all kinds of awesome. More ammo!
gotcha wilco. 🙂 tonight.
Not necessarily. In all probability he hasn’t bothered to do any real analysis, since he already “knows” what the results will be. Failures are rationalized away, any lucky successes are latched on to and emphasized.
It’s all too easy for someone in his position to avoid even noticing the actual evidence.
Oh I so wish the FDA would shut him down. He is a menace to society. Gives my home state an even worse reputation as well. I agree with everyone else the man is evil. Even if he is just blinded by his own greed he can’t help but know he is sentencing some very ill very desperate people to a toxic ‘therapy’ all the while draining their cash reserves, life savings, retirement money, any money they can squeeze out of friends and family, etc. It is so sick it makes me ill. I sympathize for these families, I cannot even think about a diagnosis like that for my child, but they deserve real therapies and truth. And if the truth is we just can’t save your child then you should give them the best while you still have them and let them go in comfort, peace, and dignity at home. Not hooked up to a toxic IV spending their last days in pain. Need to get over there and write letters to my congress people not that I expect them to listen they certainly haven’t before. The joys of being blue in a red state.
Reader: The FDA’s 1990s episodes would perhaps be better characterized as “twice bitten, never shy”. Now they are careful, feeding rope an inch at a time.
I think that they are being cautious because so many other federal agencies (ATF, DEA) have met with disasters in Texas. Texans also have a virulent dislike of any federal interference, so any premature move by the FDA is going to get them stomped on by the locals.
Plus, Texans just plain don’t want regulations, so it’s just easier to let Burzynski keep running his scams. Unfortunate, but we’re stuck with him, at least until Washington decides to downsize. (Do we really need fifty states? I don’t think so.)
I finally found the word I was looking for: Vulture. Here is how the dictionary defines vultures:
a rapacious or predatory person; a person who tries to take advantage of someone who is in a very bad situation; a person who habitually preys upon others
bloodsucker, buzzard, predator, exploiter, user; leech, sponge, sponger; destroyer, devourer
I put my letters, with copies of the USAToday article, in the mail tonight.–one each to the local and one to the DC offices. And a fax to the local. . . .one small step. . .
I always try to follow the generally good advice that what may look evil has a good chance of being incompetance–maybe I’m just painfully naive still–and I think I actively try to do that even when not warranted.
Doesn’t excuse it. Sometimes incompetance is worse than evil. Emailed my congressperson, and senators.
I’ll bet none of those protocols have ever been monitored for compliance and safety. A total fraud!
Thanks folks! Let us know what you hear back from them at thehoustoncancerquack.com!
Just curious, have you noticed anything from Burzynski that could be actionable by the FTC? They have a bit more teeth than FDA, so that could be another avenue to look at.
A spokesperson for the leading children’s hospital on my side of the world has bluntly said it how it is regarding the unreasonable requests being made by desperate aggressive parents of oncology staff wrt “experimental” cancer treatments.
“Princess Margaret Hospital’s head of cancer services has spoken out about rising levels of anger and aggression from parents, with some making unrealistic demands in desperation for their sick children to be cured.
Angela Alessandri, who went public earlier this year about the hospital’s lack of resources putting pressure on staff, said some parents were relying on quackery and misinformation on websites and social media to demand experimental and unproved treatments. She has described, in the Australian Medical Association industry magazine Medicus, increasingly unacceptable behaviour by families.”
By that article, one can’t exclude parents from some upper 1% with technical degrees, looking at approved, significantly superior treatments in the US, Germany, Japan, etc or even 30 yo specialty practices like at MSKCC, but not Oz, “why don’t you do this?”, getting stiff armed with it’s unapproved or experimental [here], and starting a war.
I can’t help but think of the Johnny Horton classic, “sink the bismark!” The Battleship Burzynski, being slowly pummeled into submission until it scuttles itself.
@Alia – I hope he’ll not come to Poland. he’s shopping for patients there though and some Internet ‘journalists’ are loving him 🙁
I assume Ten thousand flies can’t be wrong:
SHIT MUST BE GOOD!!!!!
[…] part of the basis of Szabo’s story were followed up by not one, but two, warning letters, as I documented. Moreover, Szabo never claimed that these Form 483s were warning letters; rather, she described […]
Did someone mention ” TEXAS MEDICAL BOARD ” ? Well therein lies a large part of the problem . It would seem that anyone with a track record such as this and credentials [meaning the lack thereof ] would be banned from practicing n that State . “High time for them to act ” U- BETCHA
Texas AGAIN ! ” A whole NOTHER country ” .
[…] killed in the line of duty. Meanwhile Burzynski himself tried to answer the FDA findings and failed miserably, nor did his poster presentation of singularly unimpressive results at the Society of […]