In October 2009, medical administrative secretary Sharie M., a wife and mother of four, was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme, a devastating brain cancer with a very high mortality rate. Initially, Sharie underwent conventional treatment, including three surgeries to reduce the size of the tumor (debulking) in the months immediately following the diagnosis. This kept the tumor at bay. In July of 2010, however, Sharie’s tumor was returning.
It seems that at this time, they started looking into the Burzynski Clinic and because the treatment is so expensive, they started raising money through the local paper:
“Dr. Burzynski has developed a series of peptides that attach to a sodium molecule and they reconfigure the DNA of cancer cells so that it allows the cancer cells to live a normal life and die, as opposed to living and spreading,” said Mike [M].
“They’ve got a track record of 74 percent of brain tumor success,” he added. “That means it’s either eliminated or stopped the growth for years.”
Mike [M] said the results Dr. Burzynski has achieved are encouraging.
“The statistics from this clinic where we’re at, many times, are three and four times better than the statistics you get from normal oncology,” he said. “But statistics are statistics and that’s why it’s a clinical trial. The proof is in the pudding, they say.”
74% brain tumor success? I want to know where they got that number. It’s inflated above even the ludicrous number that Amelia S.’s story received. In an interview with their local newspaper, Amelia’s mother said that the number they were given was a “complete lie“:
The parents of Pride of Reading Child of Courage winner, four-year-old Amelia [S] who died in January, say they were told she had a 54 per cent chance of survival with the clinical trial in Houston, Texas.
However mum Chantal [S], 36, believes the actual figure was just one per cent.
A BBC Panorama investigation shown on Monday questioned whether the Burzynski Clinic was “selling hope” to families.
In it, Mrs [S] said: “I think that’s wrong [54 per cent figure]. I think that’s a complete lie. I think one per cent is a more accurate figure.”
It sounds as if Sharie is on one of the antineoplaston trials:
Sharie […] began the treatment over Labor Day weekend. And while it allows her to be at home, it requires her to be on an IV-drip 24 hours a day, seven days a week, as well as thrice-weekly blood drawings to monitor vitals — all for eight to 12 months.
Mike [her husband] said it’s “livable” and that it seems to be working.
“Since the treatment started”, he said, “MRIs showed reduction in tumor size, which is not anticipated by current standard treatment.”
While I am delighted that it sounds at this point Sharie is doing well, I wish I could see those MRIs. How big is the reduction? Is she on steroids? Is the center “breaking up,” a sign of progression–a likely indicator that a tumor has outgrown its blood supply–that has been consistently been reported by the Burzynski patients we’ve looked at as signs of improvement? This is just a reminder that we can’t take patient reports–especially the ones coming from Burzynski’s patients–as reliable evidence of efficacy. Sadly, such patient reports are the sandy foundation of Burzynski’s entire practice.
They have already been to Houston at this point. Sharie would have gone through the multi-week training course at the clinic in Houston because Burzynski made patients fend for themselves. During this time the family is separated, spending the little time they have together apart. Worse, their insurance is only of limited help:
“They typically will cover medical expenses, traditional blood testing, MRIs — those kinds of things. But the treatment won’t be covered,” Mike [M] said. “The clinical trials may cover the cost of the medication, but the pump, the office calls, the staffing, the supplies — those things are at our expense. So it should be somewhere in the $7,000- to $8,000-a-month range, with a $20,000 initial payment to get started.”
A legitimate researcher would not demand payment up front at all. This family is putting their mother’s life on the line for what will, if successful, make Burzynski a unfathomably rich man. They should not be paying a nickel to be his lab rats. Of course, hundreds of patients have been in his over 60 trials trials, and because every single one of those patients expected their doctor to publish his results, I consider every one of them personally betrayed by Burzynski, as their suffering and generosity has led to exactly zero completed, published trials.
In anticipation of the heavy expenses, the family starts raising money for Burzynski. They sponsor a pancake breakfast at the beginning of November 2010. According to a local television report, Sharie was too sick to attend the event. Nonetheless, some 1500 people showed up to support her. The Burzynski Clinic does not only capitalize on the vulnerable, but exploits the generosity of entire communities. The family’s expenses to date were met at this time.
In September of 2011, her son reports that she is “doing better.” I have no information about what happened to her in the intervening time. I do know, however, that the family opened their farm to local schoolchildren to teach them about agricultural science, an ongoing project that the family continues in honor of Sharie.
Sharie died on Jan 1, 2012. Her passing was commemorated by 600 friends a few days later at St. Boniface’s Catholic Church, where her life was celebrated.
The trial Sharie participated in, the one she and her community paid to participate in, was never published. Indeed, no more patients are being accepted into the trials as of last year, following an investigation into a child’s death. That was followed by a series of devastating findings about the Institutional Review Board (charged with independently reviewing and overseeing trials) by FDA inspectors, which peeled back any pretense of genuine research. Among the findings:
- “The IRB [Institutional Review Board] used an expedited review procedure for research which did not appear in an FDA list of categories eligible for expedited review, and which had not previously been approved by the IRB. Specifically, your IRB routinely provided expedited approvals for new subjects to enroll under Single Patient Protocols.” [2 adults and 3 pediatric patients are mentioned]
- “The IRB approved the conduct of research, but did not determine that the risks to subjects were reasonable in relation to the anticipated benefits (if any) to subjects, and to the importance of the knowledge that might be expected to result. Specifically, your IRB gave Expedited Approval for several Single Patient Protocols (SPP) without all the information necessary to determine that the risk to subjects are minimized.” [4 examples follow]
- “The IRB did not determine at the time of initial review that a study was in compliance with 21 CFR Part 50 Subpart D, ‘Additional Safeguards for Children in Clinical Investigations.’ Specifically, an IRB that reviews and approves research involving children is required to make a finding that the study is in compliance with 21 CFR Part 50 Subpart D, ‘Additional Safeguards for Children in Clinical Investigations.’ Your IRB approved research involving children without documentation of the IRBs finding that the clinical investigation satisfied the criteria under Subpart D.” [3 examples follow and there is a note that this is a repeat observation that had been found in an Oct 2010 Inspection.]
- “The IRB did not follow its written procedure for conducting its initial review of research. Specifically, the IRB is required to follow its written procedures for conducting initial and continuing review. Your IRB did not follow your written procedures for conducting initial and continuing review because these subjects received IRB approval via an expedited review procedure not described in your Standard Operating Procedures. If your IRB would have followed your own SOP for initial and continuing review, the following subjects would have received review and approval from the full board rather than an expedited review.” [2 adults and 3 pediatric patients are listed.]
- “The IRB has no written procedures for ensuring prompt reporting to the IRB, appropriate institutional officials, and the FDA of any unanticipated problems involving risks to human subjects or others. Specifically, your current SOP-2012 v2-draft doc does not describe the requirements on Investigators on how unanticipated problems are reported to the IRB, Institutional Official, and the FDA, such as time intervals and the mode of reporting, or otherwise address how the prompt reporting of such instances will be ensured.”
- “The IRB has no written procedures [in the SOP-2012 v2-draft doc] for ensuring prompt reporting to the IRB, appropriate institutional officials, and the FDA of any instance of serious or continuing noncompliance with theses [sic] regulations or the requirements or determinations of the IRB.”
- “A list of IRB members has not been prepared and maintained, identifying members by name, earned degrees, representative capacity, and any employment or other relationship between each member and the institution.” (BurzynskiForm483Feb2013)
For reliable information about clinical trials, visit to clinicaltrials.gov. Please contribute to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, which cares for sick children even if they can’t pay. Unlike Burzynski.