A Closer Look at Burzynski

Earlier this year, a documentary film was released highlighting the emotional story of cancer patients, adults and children alike, outliving the grim predictions of their medical prophets. Their savior was none other than Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski and the Burzynski Clinic in Houston, Texas. The documentary was well-made, enticing, and emotional. The first 30 minutes of the film are spent explaining Dr. Burzynski's revolutionary new approach to fighting cancer and showing us interviews with people who had allegedly been cured by it. The remainder of the film details an epic story of Dr. Burzynski in multiple court battles with the Texas State Board of Medical Examiners and FDA.

As far as the court battles, patent infringement on the part of the government, and trying to take Dr. Burzynski's medical license, well, the government has never displayed much intelligence to me, so that part is typical. I have a different question though and it is outside the scope of most of the film's presentation. I want to know if Dr. Burzynski's treatment, antineoplastons, has survived the gauntlet of the peer review process. You see the film details that Dr. Burzynski has been in FDA medical trials for years, but these are NOT peer review. In peer review, Dr. Burzynski's science content would be reviewed double-blindly by other experts in other countries, working for a variety of other establishments. This is why peer review is reliable. Bias is minimal!

I know what you're probably thinking. "Lots of scientists over the years have been persecuted for having revolutionary ideas." On one hand, you're right. The humiliation of rejection or disapproval by the community is one of many incentives to do your work right and there's nothing wrong with that. On the other hand, if you're thinking Galileo Galilei or Ignaz Semmelweis, you're in the wrong centuries. Peer review is a very different world now. If Galileo or Semmelweis had been afforded the system we have today, there is little doubt their experience would've been drastically different.

The Burzynski documentary goes out of its way to show that many other doctors and biologists believe Dr. Burzynski is a quack. The film implies a heavy bias, elements and science dogmatism, and unfair elitist rejection in the scientific community on par with Galileo and Semmelweis. This concerns me greatly because this very same tactic is also used by creationists to promote intelligent design and by homeopathy practitioners to push their expensive medical alternatives and BOTH go out of their way to attempt to undermine science. Asking why a given scientific claim is not consensus in the scientific community is reasonable. A reply that the scientific community is dogmatic and/or influenced by profit should throw up a red flag. Something is WRONG with this picture now!

So let's have a look at where Burzynski is in peer review. Some months ago, when I first saw the film, I was sitting at my computer and figuratively running my fingers through PubMed. For those of you who don't know, PubMed is an online archive of citations from Medline, life science journals, and online books. PubMed is not, itself, a medical journal, but it's not a bad place to start if you're looking for something in the medical field. It is worth noting a fact, which eluded me at the time, that not ALL entries in PubMed are peer reviewed studies! Let me say that again. Not ALL entries in PubMed are peer reviewed studies!!! Sure enough, I found Burzynski in there. The thought in my amateurish and layman brain was, "Well, he appears to be in peer review, so I'm tentatively satisfied." Fortunately, I didn't stop there. Since then, I have amassed a laundry list of other journals, skills on how to reference them, and a fair list of various experts I can contact should I have questions (my own little micro peer review process). My standards of evidence have been refined progressively ever since.

I had largely been dormant on this issue lately until a scientist to whom I subscribe, Professor PZ Meyers of the University of Minnesota Morris, made an extraordinary comment on his personal blog.

"Marc Stephens, the lunatic who stirred up the recent blogospheric buzz with his clumsy thuggery, no longer has a 'professional relationship' with the Burzynski clinic, that warehouse of quackery. One thing about charlatans is that they have a fine-tuned sense of who might be hurting their bottom line." [1]

Well, it seems I've been out of loop. The Burzynski Clinic has been up to some strange things lately. This person, Marc Stephens, who claims to speak on behalf of the clinic has been harassing skeptical bloggers and threatening legal action. Apparently, a rapidly growing community (now in the hundreds) has been hammering on Burzynski with brutal skepticism. I thought in my mind, "Well, the quickest way to silence a skeptic is to show your evidence in peer review." True to form, the Burzynski Clinic attempted to do exactly that. Fortunately, Professor PZ Meyers points us to biologist Jen McCreight who has done much of the work for us. [3]

"The Burzynski clinic has responded to the flood of skeptical bloggers with a press release. [4] They've apparently fired (in so many words) Marc Stephens for his harassment, yet still plan to send attorneys after UK bloggers. ...

So let's have a look at Burzynski's research, shall we?

1. Burzynski, SR. Treatments for Astrocytic Tumors in Children: Current and Emerging Strategies. Pediatric Drugs 2006; 8: l67-178.

Pediatric Drugs: No impact factor. [6][9]

2. Burzynski, S.R., Janicki, T.J., Weaver, RA., Burzynski, B. Targeted therapy with Antineoplastons A10 and of high grade, recurrent, and progressive brainstem glioma. Integrative Cancer Therapies 2006; 5(1):40­47.

Integrative Cancer Therapies ... describes itself as emphasizing 'scientific understanding of alternative medicine and traditional medicine therapies.'"

It's worth noting that the above study here (number 2) is the one I found in PubMed that deterred me in my naïveté from researching any further when I initially granted my support for Dr. Burzynski.

Dr. McCreight shares a rather appropriate quote from comedian and poet, Tim Minchin. "By definition ... alternative medicine ... has either not been proved to work, or has been proved not to work. You know what they call alternative medicine that's been proved to work? Medicine."

So what else does Jen McCreight find?

3. Burzynski, SR. Recent clinical trials in diffuse intrinsic brain-stem glioma. Cancer Therapy 2007;5, 379-390.

Even more sketchy and unprofessional than the [website] is its repeated mentioning of its 'rapid review process.' I couldn't find out anything about the editorial board other than there's some guy in Greece you should submit things to. And after a lot of digging, I couldn't find an impact factor at all. [6]

4. Burzynski, SR., Weaver, R.A., Janicki, T.J., Jufida, G.F., Szymkowskì, B,G., Kubove, E. Phase Il studies of Antineoplasîons A10 and AS 2-1 (ANP) in children with newly diagnosed diffuse, intrinsic brainstem gliomas. Neuro-Oncology 2007;9:206.

[etc]

The final nine of his citations all seem to come from the Journal of Neuro-Oncology. Upon first glance, it seems legit ... until you search the journal for articles by Burzynski. The result? Burzynski has not published a single paper in this journal. Every single citation is an abstract from a presentation made at a conference. ... This means that none of Burzynski's research from this journal has actually been peer-reviewed by the journal."

I encourage everyone to go read the rest of Jen McCreight's blog. In short, despite my past impressions, Dr. Burzynski has NOT been appropriately peer reviewed. I tried hard to find him in the Lancet, Science, Nature, the Journal of Oncology, and others. I couldn't find him.

I want to preface once more that I found his documentary very interesting. It made me aware of possible corporate influence within the FDA by big pharma and I have made a note of that. However, peer review is NOT under the influence of big pharma or government, so there is no excuse. In the spirit of intellectual honesty, I am hereby retracting my support of the Burzynski Clinic pending Dr. Burzynski getting peer reviewed in a more prestigious journal. We may not have to wait long. [8]

Citations:
[1] Professor PZ Meyers
[2] Josephine Jones
[3] Dr. Jen McCreight
[4] Burzynski Clinic Press Release
[5] Integrative Cancer Therapies
[6] Impatch Factor
[7] Journal of Neuro-Oncology
[8] Turn up the heat on Burzynski, Pharyngula
[9] Pediatric Drugs

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Tue, 12/13/2011 - 12:48am | So you don't think Burzynksi (Score: 1)
Tue, 12/13/2011 - 3:43pm | No, you've got FDA trials and (Score: 1)
Tue, 12/13/2011 - 7:51pm | Great point. Thank you for (Score: 1)
Tue, 12/13/2011 - 9:31pm | That's correct. All too many (Score: 1)
Tue, 12/27/2011 - 7:51pm | "That's correct. All too many (Score: 1)
Wed, 12/28/2011 - 11:53pm | "When we are talking about (Score: 1)
Thu, 12/29/2011 - 3:09am | "Medical research has its own (Score: 1)
Thu, 12/29/2011 - 4:42am | "So apparently there is a (Score: 1)
Tue, 12/27/2011 - 8:22pm | After going through the (Score: 1)
Thu, 12/29/2011 - 12:22am | "1. It doesn't tell us (Score: 1)
Thu, 12/29/2011 - 3:27am | "I'm not a biologist nor an (Score: 1)
Thu, 12/29/2011 - 5:15am | "so why are you being hostile (Score: 1)
Wed, 01/04/2012 - 9:12am | Thanks for the information (Score: 1)
Wed, 12/14/2011 - 8:23pm | Just wanted to say thanks for (Score: 1)
Wed, 12/14/2011 - 11:11pm | I'll try to answer your (Score: 1)
Thu, 12/15/2011 - 8:48pm | *Sorry for any confusion, (Score: 1)
Sat, 12/17/2011 - 2:14am | Here is your reply, (Score: 1)
Tue, 12/20/2011 - 8:33pm | Well you make some good (Score: 1)
Tue, 12/20/2011 - 9:30pm | "Just so you know though, I (Score: 1)
Wed, 12/14/2011 - 9:23pm | What about these peer (Score: 1)
Wed, 12/14/2011 - 11:13pm | The links you gave me are not (Score: 1)
Mon, 12/19/2011 - 12:48am | I have put Byrzynski in my (Score: 1)
Mon, 12/19/2011 - 3:23am | Kim, you should read my last (Score: 1)
Thu, 12/22/2011 - 12:12am | Well like the part in your (Score: 1)
Thu, 12/22/2011 - 6:36pm | "Your suspicions that I am (Score: 1)
Thu, 12/22/2011 - 3:21am | The FDA has been Actively (Score: 1)
Thu, 12/22/2011 - 3:21am | Many of them were made in (Score: 1)
Thu, 12/22/2011 - 3:21am | You - "By definition ... (Score: 1)
Thu, 12/22/2011 - 3:22am | You - ""I know what you're (Score: 1)
Thu, 12/22/2011 - 3:22am | PhRMA takes credit for (Score: 1)
Thu, 12/22/2011 - 3:22am | And talking actually quite (Score: 1)
Thu, 12/22/2011 - 3:23am | how much money have the FDA (Score: 1)
Thu, 12/22/2011 - 3:38am | forgot Matt Berkowitz* (Score: 1)
Thu, 12/22/2011 - 3:38am | and Kim Dostaler* (Score: 1)
Thu, 12/22/2011 - 7:22am | Rositsa, you've got some (Score: 1)
Thu, 12/22/2011 - 4:35pm | I added you before you made (Score: 1)
Thu, 12/22/2011 - 8:40pm | You apologized for calling me (Score: 1)
Thu, 12/22/2011 - 8:51pm | Just so no one thinks I (Score: 1)
Thu, 12/22/2011 - 4:46pm | (what kind of a debate is it (Score: 1)
Thu, 12/22/2011 - 11:19pm | People interested (on a few (Score: 1)
Fri, 12/23/2011 - 12:12am | Show me where your apology (Score: 1)
Fri, 12/23/2011 - 12:27am | The entire talk is quite (Score: 1)
Fri, 12/23/2011 - 1:19am | I'm not saying this lightly (Score: 1)
Fri, 12/23/2011 - 1:38am | Hello. You seem to like (Score: 1)
Fri, 12/23/2011 - 1:48am | Now. I believe the readers of (Score: 1)
Fri, 12/23/2011 - 2:46am | The replay of Zuxius11 on (Score: 1)
Fri, 12/23/2011 - 7:28pm | Rositsa, you're gonna kill (Score: 1)
Fri, 12/23/2011 - 8:53pm | "there's nothing anybody can (Score: 1)
Fri, 12/23/2011 - 7:56pm | Tanoro says, "I could (Score: 1)
Fri, 12/23/2011 - 8:58pm | Sure, I'll see what I can get (Score: 1)
Mon, 12/26/2011 - 11:51pm | Alright, following up from (Score: 1)
Tue, 12/27/2011 - 3:35am | Part 2, jumping right into (Score: 1)
Tue, 12/27/2011 - 4:00am | Note: The citations counted (Score: 1)
Tue, 12/27/2011 - 4:41pm | Ok, so your approach now (Score: 1)
Tue, 12/27/2011 - 5:47pm | Eric, I am most willing to (Score: 1)
Wed, 12/28/2011 - 7:09pm | “The burden of proof is not (Score: 1)
Thu, 12/29/2011 - 12:33am | "Haha, whoops, you are (Score: 1)
Wed, 12/28/2011 - 9:55pm | ^^Meant to say the words "in (Score: 1)
Thu, 12/29/2011 - 10:11pm | Re-searching Saul Green (Score: 1)
Thu, 12/29/2011 - 10:38pm | "May 24, 1993 - Nicholas (Score: 1)
Fri, 12/30/2011 - 12:08am | "Well here's a big one for (Score: 1)
Sat, 12/31/2011 - 11:22pm | Tanoro says, "First of all, I (Score: 1)
Sun, 01/01/2012 - 5:05am | "Are you implying that (Score: 1)
Sun, 01/01/2012 - 7:35pm | Perhaps I'm not expressing (Score: 1)
Sun, 01/01/2012 - 10:50pm | "The following is not an (Score: 1)
Sun, 01/01/2012 - 10:39pm | I'm going to address Dr. (Score: 1)
Mon, 01/02/2012 - 12:54am | Here is the link to the (Score: 1)
Fri, 06/08/2012 - 1:12pm | I agree that Burzynski should (Score: 1)
Fri, 08/03/2012 - 12:09pm | Indeed, I also became (Score: 1)