Burzynski Patient Kyla F.’s Story

*An appeal to encourage Congress to investigate this follows Kyla’s story*

On 5 September 1996, 22 month-old Kyla F. was having trouble walking and swallowing, and her eye was turning inward. After months of exams, it was determined that she had a diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, the nearly universally fatal tumor that people think, for some reason, that he can cure. These tumors can rarely be biopsied because they are tangled in the delicate wiring of the brain stem. Kyla’s was the size of an egg when she was diagnosed.

After 5 months of treatment on chemotherapy to little avail (and because her age and the placement of the tumor made radiation dangerous), the family began looking for new options. They heard about Burzynski through the father of a little boy, Eric Z., who had the same brain tumor. Eric is now dead.

At the time, March of 1997, Burzynski was allowed to continue to pump antineoplastons into children, but only as part of clinical trials. He opened over 60 “to treat every type of cancer the clinic had treated and everything Burzynski wanted to treat in the future,” said his lawyer. Notice he does not say, “every type of cancer that seemed promising” or “could be helped.” Nope. He wanted to treat these cancers and he did, charging patients tens upon tens of thousands of dollars to participate in his “trials.” Not a single damned one of them has ever been published, and the trust of every patient who participated in the trials expecting their suffering and money to go into useful research was betrayed.

It may be just as well, however, as the trials were incompetently run from every single measurable criterion, from the IRB that, if it were attached to a research university receiving federal dollars, would cause all the clinical research at the university to be shut down. The deficiencies outlined in site observations released in November of 2013 found:

Among the newly released observations by FDA inspectors:

  1. Burzynski (as investigator, the subject of the inspection) “failed to comply with protocol requirements related to the primary outcome, therapeutic response […] for 67% of study subjects reviewed during the inspection.” This means that several patients who were reported as “complete responses” did not meet the criteria defined in the investigational plan, as were patients who were reported as having a “partial response” and “stable disease.” This means that his outcomes figures for these studies are inaccurate.
  2. Additionally, some patients admitted failed to meet the inclusion criteria for the study.
  3. Even though patients needed to have a physician back home to monitor their progress prior to enrolling in a trial, the FDA found a patient who began receiving treatment before a doctor had been found.
  4. Patients who had Grade 3 or 4 toxic effects were supposed to be removed from treatment. One patient had 3 Grade 3 events followed by 3 Grade 4 events. Another patient had 7 disqualifying toxic events before he was removed from the study.
  5. Burzynski did not report all adverse events as required by his study protocols. One patient had 12 events of hypernatremia (high sodium), none of which was reported. There are several similar patients.
  6. The FDA told Burzynski: “You failed to protect the rights, safety, and welfare of subjects under your care. Forty-eight (48) subjects experienced 102 investigational overdoses between January 1, 2005 and February 22, 2013, according to the [trial number redacted] List of Hospitalizations/SAE (serious adverse events) [redacted]/ Overdose [redacted]/Catheter Infection report. Overdose incidents have been reported to you [….] There is no documentation to show that you have implemented corrective actions during this time period to ensure the safety and welfare of subjects.” [emphasis added] It seems that these overdoses are related to the protocol, which requires family members to administer the drugs via programmable pump on their own. Further, patient records show that there were many more overdoses that were not included in the Hospitalization/SAE/Overdose list.
All of that is included in the first observation. The second observation showed that Burzynski failed to maintain the records required by his protocols. Specifically:
  1. “Your […] tumor measurements initially recorded on worksheets at baseline and on-study treatment […] studies for all study subjects were destroyed and are not available for FDA inspectional review.” This is one of the most damning statements, as without any…not a single baseline measurement…there is no way to determine any actual effect of the antineoplaston treatment. This means that Burzynski’s studies–which by last account cost $30,000 to begin and $7000 a month to maintain–are unpublishable.
  2. Some adverse events were not reported to the Burzynski Clinic IRB for years. (One patient had an adverse event in 1998 and the oversight board did not hear about it until 2005.)
  3. The FDA observed that the informed consent document did not include a statement of extra costs that might be incurred. Specifically, some informed consent documents were signed days to weeks before billing agreements, and in a couple of cases no consent form could be found.
  4. The clinic was unable to account for its stock of antineoplastons.
And this is not the first time the FDA has inspected his site and found it wanting. This is merely the most recent in a decade-long string of abysmal site reviews.
Of course, we should probably expect as much when Burzynski’s lawyer described the first clinical trial as “a joke” in his memoir.
Kyla started antineoplastons on March 7, 1997. The parents seem to have been told that Kyla might have 2 months. That year, according to her mother’s personal website (cached from geocities):
Kyla started that treatment and has been on it ever since, racking up a bill that is currently 157,500 dollars. As long as she continues to received treatment the money is of little matter. Some parents save for college, we chose to save her life.
To my knowledge, there is no account of Kyla’s life on treatment, however,  on 26 May, 1998, her mother reported at the old version of the Burzynski Patient Group:
On antineoplastons, MRIs of her tumor have shown that it has remained stable, a miracle in itself. A PET scan in November of 1997 showed decreased metabolic activity of the tumor.
This suggests that the tumor hasn’t shrunk. And “stable,” again, is a slippery term that doesn’t necessarily mean “not growing,” only growing very slowly. (Decreased metabolic activity in a tumor, after all, is still metabolic activity in a tumor.) It seems that the tumor is a slow progressing one. In the same update, the mother says that,
“Today, May 26, 1998, she even stood on her own two feet without support!
Did she not usually? There is nothing in this to suggest to me that this was more than a slow growing tumor that may have been allayed by the badly tolerated chemotherapy. Her symptoms may have also benefited from steroids, if she was on them.
Kyla died on Monday, June 14th, 1999 at 7:35 AM.  Her tombstone reads:
Come on. Let’s Go
You are and always will be
our Kyla, our hero
Our miracle our sunshine
our hope, our child.
Her mother wrote a poem about her little dancer.
Usually, this is where we would put an appeal to donate to St. Jude’s. You may still do that, if you like, but we are now actively campaigning for an investigation into how the FDA decided to allow Burzynski not only to continue his ridiculous trials, but to actually get a phase III trial after a decade of abominable site visits. Go to thehoustoncancerquack.com and you will find the resources you need to put primary documents–the FDA inspection notes–into the hands of your representatives so they can conduct an investigation. All appeals to understand this made to the FDA have failed, so now we need to press the issue onto the committees that oversee the FDA. Please help us uncover what went wrong so we can fix it and so this never happens again.