I’ve written before about the Burzynski Clinic. Just to refresh your memory, it’s a clinic based in Texas that claims to have a remarkably effective treatment for cancer, antineoplastons. The marketing of the clinic is based on the idea that Burzynski is a maverick lone researcher who has discovered the cure for cancer, but the medical establishment don’t want you to know about it because it would threaten their business model. I’m never entirely clear whether the medical establishment are acting on their own or in collaboration with our Lizard Overlords, but you get the idea.
That probably sounds like a crazy enough conspiracy theory on its own, even before I tell you that Dr Burzynski has form for fraud. If you want to catch up with my previous posts about the Burzynski Clinic, you can read them here, here, and here.
One of the obvious red flags of quackery that alerts us to the likelihood that Burzynski’s treatment is worthless is his lack of publications. He has registered 61 clinical trials of antineoplaston treatment, and yet I can only find one of them with published results (and even in that study, most of the patients died). What happened in the other 60 studies? We can only guess, as the results have not been published.
So why hasn’t he published the results of the other 60 studies?
There are a number of possibilities. One possibility is that the results were dreadful and show that antineoplastons are not only worthless, but positively harmful. If that’s true, and if Burzynski is more concerned with making money than with ethics, then perhaps he chooses not to publish in the hope that potential customers will not learn the truth about antineoplastons.
Another possibility is that the results show that antineoplastons are wonderfully effective, but he’s worried that if he publishes the results, other people will start using them and it will hurt his business model. That wouldn’t be very ethical. It wouldn’t even be very good business sense. If antineoplastons were effective, I imagine he could do some licensing deal with one of the big pharma companies that would make him far more money than he could ever hope to make at his own clinic.
Supporters of Burzynski reject both those possibilities, of course, and propose a third. Part of the conspiracy theory mythology is that Burzynski has repeatedly tried to publish his results, but his attempts have been suppressed by
the Lizard Overlords Big Pharma.
On the face of it, that sounds highly implausible and nothing but part of a crazy conspiracy theory.
But I’ve been thinking a bit more about this, and it’s occurred to me that there just might be a grain of truth in it.
I’m not suggesting there is some grand conspiracy in which Big Pharma pay off the journals to reject his papers, of course. But maybe medical journals really do routinely reject his papers.
Well, there are widely accepted ethical standards that have to be followed in clinical research. The best known codification of these standards is the Declaration of Helsinki. Among other things, these standards require that clinical trials must follow a pre-specified protocol which has been approved by an independent ethics committee, and that patients taking part in the trials must have given informed consent. That consent must be based on a clear explanation of what happens in the trial and be freely given.
Most respectable medical journals require that those standards have been met, and refuse to publish papers based on research that did not conform to those standards.
Is it possible that this is the reason why Burzynski’s research has not been published? Certainly, his ethics have come into question in the past. The FDA found that the Institutional Review Board tasked with approving his studies was not following appropriate procedures. Burzynski is currently facing legal action from a former patient who alleges, among other things, that she was entered in a clinical trial without her knowledge. If true, that’s an extremely serious breach of medical ethics.
Taking all this together, it does seem plausible that Burzynski might have submitted many more trials for publication than we know about, but that the papers were rejected because the trials did not conform to accepted ethical standards.
I should point out that this is pure speculation. I have no evidence that Burzynski has had papers rejected for this reason. Nonetheless, it is a familiar refrain of Burzynski’s supporters that he’s repeatedly tried to publish his results and been repeatedly rejected. That’s quite possibly conspiracy theory nonsense of course, but it just could be true if the journals who received the submitted papers realised that the trials did not follow accepted ethical standards.
Does anyone out there have any more information? Is there any evidence that Burzynski has submitted papers that have been rejected, other than the bluster of conspiracy theorists? Please let me know via the comments form below if you can shed any light on any of this.