Nov 29 2011

A look at the Burzynski clinic’s publications

The Burzynski clinic has responded to the flood of skeptical bloggers with a press release. They’ve apparently fired (in so many words) Marc Stephens for his harassment, yet still plan to send attorneys after UK bloggers. I’m not sure if the targeting of UK bloggers has to do with UK libel laws, or if the Burzynski clinic is oblivious to the dozens of American bloggers also pointing out their harmful pseudoscience.

But the part of the press release that intrigued me was that they finally attempt to give some evidence for all that scientific research Burzynski has to back up his claims. Wow, a list of citations! To a non-scientist, it certainly seems impressive, what with its big words and journal names and such. But as a scientist, I was still skeptical, and decided to do some digging.

Why was I skeptical? Because not all journals are created equal. Lay people know this to an extent. It’s much more prestigious to get into journals like Science and Nature because the peer review process is way more rigorous. Your research not only has to be pretty damn air tight, but it has to make a significant contribution to scientific knowledge. We can measure how good a journal is by a metric known as an “impact factor.” It’s complicated, but generally the higher the impact factor, the better the journal.

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

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

Pediatric Drugs: No impact factor.

Off to a great start! (Hint: That’s sarcasm)

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

Integrative Cancer Therapies has an impact factor of 1.716. What does this number mean? Compared to other journals in the category of Integrative & Complementary Medicine, it’s ranked 6 out of 21. Not bad, but “Integrative medicine” sets off my Pseudoscience Alarms. Suspicions confirmed, the  journal describes itself as emphasizing “scientific understanding of alternative medicine and traditional medicine therapies.”

To quote the brilliant 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.”

What happens when you compare this journal in a more legitimate category, like Oncology? Its rank unsurprisingly drops to an abysmal 134 out of 185.

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

When this journal’s website loaded, I started laughing and dragged my laptop to my fellow-scientist roommate. It looks like a relic from the 90s. Even more sketchy and unprofessional than the white-text-on-black-background and ugly use of frames 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.

Super sketchy.

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 chiìdren with newly diagnosed diffuse, intrinsic brainstem gliornas. Neuro-Oncology 2007;9:206.


The final nine of his citations all seem to come from the Journal of Neuro-Oncology. Upon first glance, it seems legit. It has a relatively high impact factor of 5.483, which makes it 24 out of 184 in Oncology. Not bad at all, especially for a specialized oncology journal (the neuro part).

Not bad 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. For those of you not in academia, we like to hold conferences where people can present their research and network. However, you’re allowed to present preliminary results that haven’t been published yet. Any scientist can submit abstracts in order to speak at conferences, and if that single paragraph sounds interesting, you get to give a talk. It’s pretty much impossible to judge how legitimate research is from an abstract (or presentation) alone, and some conferences are not competitive at all when it comes to who gets to speak – they have plenty of spaces to accept all presenters. Journals often act as archives for conferences they’re affiliated with, and will list those abstracts.

This means that none of Burzynski’s research from this journal has actually been peer-reviewed by the journal. The fact that he never actually published this data says a lot. Seriously – if you legitimately found something that helped cure cancer, prestigious journals would be tripping over themselves to have you publish in them. The fact that you can’t publish your research anywhere except in the occasional bottom-of-the-barrel shady journal means your research is terrible.

There was a final citation that stood out to me. It was the only citation that wasn’t research that Burzynski himself had done. Another key facet of science that makes it robust is that other scientists must be able to confirm your findings. And if they falsify your hypothesis, it’s back to the drawing board. So lets look at this one last citation:

11. Ogata, Y., Shirouzu, K., Matono, M., Ushìjima, M., Uchida, S., Tsuda, H. Randomized phase H study of hepatic arterial infusion with or without antíneoplastons as adjuvant therapy after hepatectomy for liver metastases from colorectal cancer. Ann Oncol 2010;21:víiî221 .

Again, this was a presentation made at a conference, specifically the 2010 European Society for Medical Oncology. Again, that means this research has not been peer-reviewed at all. In addition to the lack of non-Burzynski studies replicating his results, the National Cancer Institute also points out multiple studies (in legitimate journals) that are not able to replicate his results.

I would really like someone to take a look at the few papers Burzynski has published to see what the science looks like. One, I can’t access the couple of journal articles he actually does have because the journals are so crappy that my university doesn’t bother subscribing to them. But two, my area is population genetics and evolution, so I’m not really equipped to do an in-depth analysis of cancer research. But as a biologist I can safely remark on the quality of the journals his research was published in, and what that means.

So, Burzynski. Do you have any actual science to support your claims?

Update: I discuss further damning revelations about Burzynski’s research in this newer post.


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  1. 1
    James Evans

    Brilliant! I was sceptical of Burzynski’s claims but it’s difficult, as a non-scientist (a degree in mathematics doesn’t really count for much in these circs), to work out which are bogus. Keep up the good work.

  2. 2

    Jen, I am so glad that there are people like you ready to do the heavy lifting. I love science, but I have no training so analyses like this really help. You are like MythBusters for alternative medicine.

  3. 3

    When do I get to start blowing things up? Do I have to grow a goatee first?

  4. 4

    Awesome! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    I just pimped this post on Orac’s RI blog. You are awesome!

    When life gets more settled I will return to the Skeptic’s meetings at Tiki Bob’s Cantina.

  5. 5

    Even if he managed to get an article through a rigorous peer review process, and had an article say in Nature, it still wouldn’t be nearly enough. Good journals sometimes publish mistakes, peer review isn’t perfect, you have to take the long term view. If this treatment was repeatable, the proof would be everywhere, after all the claim is a cure for cancer. It is pathetic, that after 40 years of research, the only evidence is a list of shady journal articles and conference talks. Great job on the debunking.

  6. 6
    Chris Ho-Stuart

    Yes, please. :-)

    Nice job BTW. Thanks muchly!

  7. 7

    I though I’d check out the other area where he has published- Patents. What with the US Patent Office database being easily searchable, and full text being avalable. I’m not sure if this link will work, but if it doesn’t that Patent is US 5,089,508 “Methods for treating aids”. There’s an identically named one, US 5,254,587 plus also US 5,116,622 “Methods for treating Parkinson’s disease”.

    The equivalent of “peer review” for a patent only happens if someone is in potential breach of it and the patent holder brings proceedings against that party. You don’t have to prove, until that point, that your invention actually works. It’ll help, if you come to sue, but it isn’t required.

    Antineoplastons seem to cure EVERYTHING

  8. 8

    Great job checking the journals! I started reading the papers and abstracts as soon as I saw the press release, and they don’t look too good. I’m not a medical student so they are difficult reading for me, but here are the brief notes I took during my quick reads through each item in the list:

    [1] A longish review of treatment methods for astrocytic tumors. Antineoplastons are mentioned as being “under investigation” or “promising” in clinical trials, and some survival rates are mentioned. However, references are only to conference abstracts (mostly the ones below), a patent from 1995, his annual report to the FDA, and an entry in a compilation of papers called “Brain cancer research: progress” by Nova Science Publishers that I cannot seem to find.

    [2] A report on 18 patients with “High-Grade, Recurrent, and Progressive Brainstem Glioma” picked from 4 of his clinical trials. The conclusion states that typically less than 10% of patients with this condition survive 2 years, but in his group 22% (or four whole people) survived past 5 years. The conclusion also states that “Because a small number of patients have been evaluated, a larger study is required to confirm these results”. No kidding!

    [3] A review paper, not a study. Antineoplastons are mentioned and a line of data from one of Burzynski’s trials is included in a table. The discussion states that the data concerning antineoplastons was from from conference abstracts, and not peer-reviewed.

    [4] Conference abstract. A report on 20 children in several clinical trials.

    [5] Conference abstract. A report on a single patient.

    [6] Conference abstract. A report on 20 adults from a clinical trial.

    [7] Conference abstract. A preliminary report on 12 children in several clinical trials.

    [8] Conference abstract. A preliminary report on 20 adults from a clinical trial.

    [9] Conference abstract. A report on a single 10-year-old patient.

    [10] Conference abstract. A report on 28 patients from a clinical trial.

    [11] Conference abstract from the 35th ESMO Congress in Milan, Italy, 8–12 October 2010. From the session on colorectal cancer. A small phase II randomized study of 65 post-hepatectomy patients split into two groups and given hepatic arterial infusion chemotherapy with one group given antineoplastons in addition. The group with antineoplastons had a higher cancer-specific survival rate (no numbers are given in the abstract), similar disease-free survival rate, and higher rates of single organ recurrance and re-surgical treatment.

    [12] Conference abstract. A report on 17 children from a clinical trial.

    [13] Conference abstract. A preliminary report on 13 adults from a clinical trial.

    If anyone wants me to dig more into one particular paper, I’ll give is a go.

  9. 9

    I downloaded one of his papers in Integr Cancer Ther, because I was looking at some correspondence between Burzynski and a researcher by the name of Andrew Vickers, who was calling him out on some dodgy numbers.

    The one paper I looked at was… well, considering it’s from 2004, it really didn’t look like it.
    All the images were extremely poor quality, a bit cut-and-paste; always a red flag.

    Vickers’ main criticism was that he’d rounded survival numbers in a very strnage way and presented the data as bar graphs, not as the standard Kaplan-Meier survival curve.

    Anyway, I pasted the letters on my blog – if you do want a copy of a specific paper, leave a comment with the citation and I can email it to you if I have access :)

  10. 10
    D L Dahly



  11. 11

    I’m not competent to analyse cancer research either but I can get you the first two of those papers through my university if you think it would be useful.

  12. 12

    I’m not sure if the targeting of UK bloggers has to do with UK libel laws, or if the Burzynski clinic is oblivious to the dozens of American bloggers also pointing out their harmful pseudoscience.

    Ooh … I’m gonna go with door number one, Monty.

  13. 13

    You should mention in this post that the paper in Paediatric Drugs is a review, not a data paper. This would not be considered to be evidence – as the commenter above points out, it’s just an overview of the field.

    I don’t know what the processes are at Paed. Drugs for reviews, but in some journals they are peer-reviewed stringently, in others not so much. It certainly doesn’t count as a peer-reviewed publication of data, and as such, does not count as evidence in favour of antineoplastons.

  14. 14
    Andrew Jones

    Bravo on the detective work Jen.

    I’d love to hear from anyone who was at the meetings where this “data” was presented. In my experience any scientific meeting of even a reasonable standing is a pretty unforgiving environment. The rigour of questioning normally leads to a very uncomfortable time for anyone presenting flaky science.

    Did Stan manage to get the slot before lunch?

  15. 15

    I’ve created a Facebook page especially for this clinic:


  16. 16
    Paul Browne

    Well done!

    I’m just surprised that Burzynski hasn’t yet hit on the old trick of sending letters to the editor/correspondence to higher ranking scientific journals, and then claiming them as publications.

  17. 17

    I looked at the journal whose website made you laugh out loud, http://cancer-therapy.org. The back issues list Teni Boulikas as the editor-in-chief. He is also CEO of http://regulon.org, a company which produces “promising” anti-cancer remedies whose inventor is listed as Teni Boulikas. At the website listing members of the board of the Alzheimer’s CURE Foundation, http://www.alzcure.org/teni.htm, Boulikas is described as “the Founder/Chairman of the International Society for Gene Therapy and Molecular Biology and [...] a candidate for the 2006 Nobel Prize in Medicine for his many contributions to medicine, especially in the area of cancer treatment.” More about the ACF at http://www2.guidestar.org/ReportOrganization.aspx?ein=20-2550998. At the ACF website, we learn he has also made breakthroughs in wound healing and treatment of burns in Hospitals (www.burnhealing.com).” That latter website is offline, as is the website for another commercial initiative associated with his research, http://dendragen.com. At http://www.thenationalherald.com/article/50113, we can find a blurb promoting the work of the ACF, and the passion of its founder, Effie Marie Lascarides. Based on information from her ACF bio, I believe Lascarides formerly worked for The Daily Herald as an Editor-in-Chief.


    One explanation for all these relationships, an admittedly cynical one, might go like this: To earn scientific credibility a quack publishes a paper in a journal published by a snake-oil salesman who uses said journal to bolster his own scientific credentials. By joining the board of a self-enriching medical research prize charity, his resume looks that much more credible, and said credentials help to legitimize said charity. The charity is run by a former journalist who places self-promoting articles in a niche newspaper she was formerly the editor of. There you are: a web of misrepresentation and reciprocal validation. Just a few minutes of websearch revealed many other reciprocal relationships, between these and other scientific publications and conferences, commercial enterprises, charitable organizations, and media outlets, all of whom seem to be run by a small coterie.

    I know, the top post is about Burzynski’s quackery. But without the opportunities this ecosystem of false verification provides, agents like Burzynski wouldn’t have as easy a time cloaking themselves in the appearance of legitimacy.

  18. 18

    Right now he isn’t worried about this question: “So, Burzynski. Do you have any actual science to support your claims?”

    He’s worried about this question: Can he prove that the statement “There are no scientific studies supporting antineoplastoll treatment since 2006.” is false and defamatory?

  19. 19
    Amber K

    I looked into this last night but was too tired to post, sent the info off to Rhys. I love that so many dug right into this. The one I found incredibly amusing – (the preliminary report, Neuro-oncology 2008 10:21) was followed up by an actual report of the same name (different authors) which showed no efficacy of the treatment. I laughed pretty hard at that one.

    Does Burzynski really think a community full of skeptics, many of whom are scientists, are going to fall for an “impressive-looking” list of publications without checking them out? It is shameful that he takes advantage of people’s lack of knowledge this way. How many cancer patients would have the ability to evaluate this research? What a jerk.

  20. 20
    Justin Griffith

    Pull the pin. But don’t throw the pin, throw the grenade.

    If you get confused, throw both.

  21. 21
    CS Researcher

    A cautionary note: the relative importance of journals, conferences, and particular impact factor numbers varies wildly from field to field. I believe you’re right on the money for medicine.

    For other fields, however, like my own computer science, the conferences are where most of the action is (as well as the most vicious peer review), and journals tend to have much lower impact factors.

    Having strayed into some cross-disciplinary work myself, I actually find it extremely frustrating to deal with the biosciences way of doing things, since you often know about people’s results and need to start responding to them years before there’s a real publication that lets you actually see their data or cite in your related work. I like it much better when you don’t get to give a conference talk unless you’ve got published material that can actually back it up. I also think it means there’s much less worry about getting scooped.

  22. 22

    Goatee not required…Tori, Kari and Grant all get to blow things up without facial hair.

    But maybe for safety’s sake, you should stick with figurative blowing up of all things woo. That’s pretty spectacular in its own way!

  23. 23

    Good research. Let’s also remember that even if Burzynski was doing legitimate trials and publishing promising results, it would still be unethical to charge a patient or their family hundreds of thousands of dollars to participate in a clinical trial.

  24. 24
    Amber K

    Really good point, James.

  25. 25
    The Artful Nudger

    Excellent post. The more hay that is made about this quack and his “research”, the more likely it is that some poor, desperate person isn’t taken in by his snake oil.

  26. 26
    Ophelia Benson

    Great job! [applause]

  27. 27

    Tori has occasional facial hair. The point about Kari and Grant still stands, along with Scotti if you go back to the first couple seasons.

  28. 28
    Wes (thecausticignostic)

    This was the point that should have caused some second thoughts in even the most non-critical thinking individual. An acquaintance of mine has even parlayed his terminal liver failure(drinking, drugs, and the whole damned hep family) into a way to supplement his disability payments by offering himself up as a lab rat to the occasional drug trial. I’m not a trained scientist by any means, but it seems sensible that real researchers don’t ask for compensation to use you as a guinea pig, they offer it.

  29. 29
    Ewan Macdonald

    This is great work. Thanks for posting it.

  30. 30
    herr doktor bimler

    I’d love to hear from anyone who was at the meetings where this “data” was presented. In my experience any scientific meeting of even a reasonable standing is a pretty unforgiving environment. The rigour of questioning normally leads to a very uncomfortable time for anyone presenting flaky science.

    Once you’ve paid the conference attendance fee, the abstract is included in the published record even if you don’t bother turning up to present the poster or talk. This is not unknown as a form of resume-padding.

  31. 31

    It’s much more prestigious to get into journals like Science and Nature because the peer review process is way more rigorous.

    I’m not at all sure that the level of peer review in Nature or Science is any better than in a lot of good specialist journals. They’ve certainly published their share of weak stuff and they’re by no means immune to favoritism. The majority of papers in Nature and Science actually don’t get particularly many citations. The reputation is built by limiting the scope to the truly big, significant questions in each field. The good papers in those get a zillion citations and drive up the impact factor, which, of course, attracts more high-quality manuscripts from scientists.

    Focusing on the hot, sometimes sensational issues certainly comes with its risks, such as in the recent case of the bacteria that were proposed to have arsenic in their DNA. The evidence was weak at best, but the paper got published in Science anyway. The paper certainly wasn’t a very good one by scientific standards, but no doubt fantastic for the impact factor of Science.

  32. 32
    Genomic Repairman

    Many of the Neuro-Oncology “publications” are nothing more than submitted abstracts for meetings. While these are published I don’t believe they rise to the level of peer reviewed publications.

  33. 33

    I work for a university library, and it seems that we don’t subscribe to those crappy journals, either.

    Thanks for the article, Jen.

  34. 34

    Hold the phone. I read conference abstracts for a living (no kidding).

    The Ogata abstract sucks eggs. They took people with advanced liver cancer and divided them into two groups. One group got their drug PLUS an anti-cancer agent called 5-FU. The second group got their drug…

    And we have our first problem. They’re comparing their drug with and without 5-FU. No third option where 5-FU is used without their drug. How are you supposed to tell whether your drug works if you’re comparing against … um … your drug.

    But wait, there’s more!

    The people who received their product plus 5-FU did BETTER than those who did not get a … um … cancer therapy. The cancer-specific survival was higher in the 5-FU group.

    And here we have our second problem. No numbers. No statistics whatsoever comparing the results, only prose. I’ve been reading abstracts of this sort for 20+ years, and I have never, ever, never come to the results portion of the abstract without there being … um … results.

    I don’t know what the criteria are that ESMO uses to accept abstracts to the conference. Each conference sets their own rules. Many “accept” any abstract that is submitted — though nearly all of them are relegated to a poster session. Others (like ASCO, for example) reject abstracts they don’t feel have enough data in them to warrant their inclusion in the meeting.

    This abstract is what I call a “I’m submitting this shitty abstract so it’ll get accepted so that my institution will pay for my trip to [insert name of convention city]” poster.

    I would LOVE to see the actual poster as presented. I’m sure it would provide hours of entertainment.

  35. 35

    I should correct myself. The Ogata paper is about patients with advanced colon cancer who have liver metastases. The treatment was for the liver mets, not for the original colon cancer.

    I’m still a bit confused about the “randomization” protocol, because it kind of looks like they took patients who had undergone surgery for their liver mets and then assigned them to either Group A or Group B by their disease status. Frankly, I’d be worried that the process wasn’t random at all, but that those who might be expected to do better (by virtue of their disease state or surgical outcome) would be assigned to Group B to jack up the apparent efficacy of this product … but of course, that would come at the expense of their own product plus a proven anti-cancer agent. Which would raise all kinds of red flags in my book.

    Again, the primary issue here is that there is no comparator arm. It’s their drug versus their drug. If that isn’t the very definition of “piss poor study design”, then I’m the Queen of England.

  36. 36

    I’ve created a page at ganfyd for this issue.

    joshtriska’s review of the papers is useful.

    It struck me that the papers describe findings on various numbers of patients:

    Ref: No of patients
    1: 0
    2: 18
    3: 0
    4: 20
    5: 1
    6: 20
    7: 12
    8: 20
    9: 1
    10: 28
    11: 65
    12: 17
    13: 13

    The total of these figures is 215 – except that we have no way of knowing whether the same patients are described in every paper, so the total number of patients studied could be very much lower.

  37. 37
    brian t

    I like the bit about “antineoplastons” – whatever the hell they are – not being synthesised from urine, but from “chemicals”. Since urine contains chemicals, they could mean that their “antineoplastons” are synthesised from chemicals that were synthesised from urine. Which might not be a problem. As long as they WORK, without causing problems in the process, who cares where they come from? The objections are not about where they come from, they’re about them not being shown to work as advertised.

    Just a quick correction – the quote about what we call “medicine” originated with comedian Dara Ó Briain, though I think Tim Minchin picked up on it too. You can see it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YMvMb90hem8

  38. 38
    Ophelia Benson

    Jen – did you know this got picked up by boingboing?!


  39. 39

    Hi, I wrote up a reply on reddit since I don’t have my own blog: http://www.reddit.com/r/skeptic/comments/mx220/is_burzynskis_difficulty_to_get_published_in/

    It seems to be a popular topic at the moment and it would be very cool if you could give a response. Much thanks.

  40. 40

    Here’s the text from the Japanese group’s conference abstract:
    Randomized Phase II Study of Hepatic Arterial Infusion with or without Antineoplastons as Adjuvant Therapy after Hepatectomy for Liver Metastases from Colorectal Cancer

    Publication date: May 17, 2010
    Category: Colorectal cancer
    Publisher: ESMO
    Authors: Y. Ogata; K. Shirouzu; K. Matono; M. Ushijima; S. Uchida; H. Tsuda

    Full Text

    Background: Hepatic recurrence occurs in a high rate after hepatectomy for patients with colorectal metastasis to the liver. Therefore, hepatic arterial infusion chemotherapy (HAI) has been applied as an adjuvant therapy after hepatectomy. However, HAI is less effective against extra-hepatic recurrence. Antineoplastons (AS2-1 and A10) are naturally occurring peptides and amino acid derivatives found in human blood and urine. Sodium phenylacetate is the main component of AS2-1 and A10. The small peptides reportedly control neoplastic growth and have minimum adverse effects. It seems to be reasonable to apply systemic administration of antineoplastons in addition to HAI after hepatectomy in colorectal metastasis to the liver. This randomized phase II study compares the efficacy of hepatic arterial infusion with or without antineoplastons as postoperative adjuvant therapy for colorectal metastasis to the liver. Patients and Methods: A total of 65 patients who underwent hepatectomy, thermal ablation or their combination for liver metastases from colorectal cancer enrolled between 1998 and 2004 from Kurume University hospital. The patients were randomly assigned to receive systemic antineoplastons (infusion A10 followed by peroral AS2-1) plus HAI using 5-fluorouracil (group A) or HAI alone (group B) by the number of metastases and presence of extra-hepatic metastasis at the time of or before operation. The primary endpoint was mode and extent of recurrence, and secondary endpoints were cancer-specific survival, disease-free survival, rate of re-surgical treatment and adverse effects. Results: Thirty two patients were randomly assigned to group A and 33 to group B. The cancer-specific survival rate in the group A was higher than that in the group B. Although the disease-free survival rates were similar between the groups, the rate of single organ recurrence and re-surgical treatment was higher in the group A. In addition, the extent of recurrent tumors in the group A tended to be within re-surgical treatment. The major adverse effects of antineoplastons were fullness of the stomach and phlebitis. However, no additional toxicity such as bone marrow suppression, liver dysfunction and renal dysfunction was found in the group A. Conclusion: Antineoplastons appears to be useful as an adjuvant therapy in addition to hepatic arterial infusion after hepatectomy in colorectal metastases to the liver.

    Just based on what they say, without seeing the actual data, I find it difficult to see how they can justify their conclusion that antineoplastons help – all you can really say is that they don’t make things much worse.

    There were more recurrences in the group treated with antineoplastons (group A) and no difference in disease-free survival (the gold-standard for success in a trial). I don’t understand enough about clinical jargon to know what this phrase means “The cancer-specific survival rate in the group A was higher than that in the group B.”, given that there was no difference in overall survival. I would be grateful if any clinicians can step in.

    This demonstrates neatly is why it’s so important to properly publish. Abstracts mean little – they have no hard figures, they show no graphs. They do not count as solid evidence. Publishing your data means that scientists and doctors can see for themselves exactly what you’ve found, and judge it accordingly.

  41. 41

    Burzynski claims to have treated 2,000 patients in 10 years on his website. I wonder where the data on them is?

  42. 42
    Amber K

    If Burzynski has treated 2000 patients and his treatment is so successful, shouldn’t there be at least a 1000 people out there shouting to everyone who will listen that they’ve been cured of cancer? On every morning show, at Congressional hearings, etc? Where are they?

  43. 43

    In most journals you’d get more than that – usually in the abstract. You’d get some information about the statistical tests used to compare the outcomes, whether the results were statistically significant, and usually a P value or confidence interval.

    As stated it provides an interpretation, not data which one can interpret.

    I’d prefer to see the full article, of course; but as it stands it cannot be said to provide evidence of efficacy of antineoplastons.

    Dr Peter English MB ChB, MRCGP, MFPHM, MPH
    Public Health Consultant, UK

  44. 44

    Kevin – I’ve looked in depth at the Japanese abstract in my comment below – both groups were getting chemo (that’s the HAI – hepatic artery infusion of 5-FU) group A was getting antineoplastons too.

    But the key thing is that (based on what this abstract tells us) there was no difference in overall disease-free survival (The length of time after treatment for a specific disease during which a patient survives with no sign of the disease), and in fact the rate of “single organ recurrence” was higher in the group with antineoplastons.

    However, “cancer-specific survival” was better in the antineoplaston group – defined by the NCI as “The percentage of people in a study or treatment group who have not died from a specific disease in a defined period of time. The time period usually begins at the time of diagnosis or at the start of treatment and ends at the time of death. Patients who died from causes other than the disease being studied are not counted in this measurement.” http://www.cancer.gov/dictionary?cdrid=44023. The abstract says nothing about the timepoint at which this difference in survival was mentioned. And it also points out that the patients receiving antineoplastons actually had MORE tumours growing back in their liver than the control group, which required surgery to remove.

    I’m really hoping a clinician can step in here and explain what they think these results mean, and if they are justification for the team’s conclusion – but of course that’s pretty hard to do without seeing the actual data and the variation within in. Which, just to reiterate, is why it’s so important that this data is actually published properly and opened for scrutiny.

    While Burzynski himself may not be making grand claims, the people pimping his clinic on his behalf (Oh, hello Eric Merola!) ARE holding it up as an amazing cure for cancer, without providing the evidence. As far as I can see, this abstract represents the only controlled trial of antineoplastons, and the results are not impressive, based on this abstract.

    Yes – the antineoplastons aren’t causing serious side effects (although in other reports there is evidence that deaths from ion imbalance can be attributed to the high levels of sodium in the antineoplaston formulation). But to my eyes anyway, they really don’t seem to be doing much to help.

  45. 45

    The full text of a paper from the Japanese team, published in 1995, looking at the toxicology of antineoplastons in a small number of patients (who were all receiving or had received conventional treatment) is available for free here:

    Anyone with a clinical background want to have a look and let us know what they think?

  46. 46

    Also, can anyone think of a really plausible explanation for why virtually all Burzynski’s own work on antineoplastons has been published in the same two journals – “Integrative Cancer Therapies” and “Drugs under Experimental and Clinical Research” (now defunct)

    Virtually all his experimental work is in Drugs Exp Clin Res – It would be very interesting to find out if there’s any reason as to why this was the only journal he published in. It’s certainly very unusual.

    I’ve done a bit of digging and can’t find out much about the journal or its editorial processes, and seems to have ceased publishing in 2005. The journal has an impact factor of 0.6 according to this 2003 data http://www.sciencegateway.org/impact/if03df.htm suggesting it may be a place where underwhelming research goes to die…

  47. 47

    Regarding the Japanese paper, it looks like crap to me. The paper was really just a tox report (at least the drugs don’t look toxic), but it doesn’t even do that very well. The authors say that patients were kept on their normal treatments but they don’t say what those treatments are and how they varied for their 42 patients (who had a ~60 year age range a variety of different cancers). They then say that some of the patients on combination therapy with the snake oil AND regular treatment didn’t die–that’s about it. They comment that some of the patients were on maintenance therapy (meant to delay tumor growth) with just the antineoplastons but it is never really clear who those patients are.

    Just a 2nd year, so maybe I’m misinterpreting, but it seems pretty straight forward (if poorly translated).

  48. 48

    This really does seem like the bottom line: if it’s a trial, it ought to be free. This in particular bothers me.

  49. 49
    Amber K

    Great username.

  50. 50
    Niko Boulikas

    I run cancer-therapy,org, and we chose, unlike the jew-driven pub-med to give FULL texts to people.

    If you want we could make visitors pay, like JCO or UK’s Oxford Journals.

    You can thank us later, after your Masters Degree.

  51. 51
    Amber K

    “Jew-driven”? Wow. I think you further damaged your credibility with that one.

  52. 52

    I’m very interested in knowing whether this is the real Nikos B., or a spoofer.

  53. 53
    Niko Boulikas

    If anything, I am on your side.

    Now, we do not endorse racism, but:

    A novel writer gets more money writing mass-quatities.

    A researcher gets an idea by means of clinical trials, NOT how many publications are published in regards to a SINGLE aspect of research or data.

    So only data can speak for credibility, not the quantity of publications.

  54. 54
    Amber K

    I’d hate to see what kind of language you’d use if you did endorse racism.

  55. 55

    Do we not agree that trials cost money? That producing high quality drugs costs money?

    I agree that if it appears to be a safe and fairly reliable cure for cancer, research for it should absolutely be covered by our tax dollars and by donations from charitable organizations. Burzynski is not funded by our tax dollars or these organizations, but does it logically follow then that Burznski’s research is not legitimate? Does the government make mistakes? Are governmental decisions influenced by special interests? Do charitable organizations have perfect histories?

    I am not a shill for Burzynski. I do not have direct knowledge that his drugs work. I do know that the NIH and Dr. Samid have recent patents that I have downloaded from the US Patent Office. I have examined one that in several ways mirrors Burzynski’s own older patents and his statements. Burzynski’s drugs have passed FDA Phase I and Phase II trials, despite apparently strong prejudice against him, as evidenced by the numerous and persistent accusations against him by FDA.

    To reject his treatment simply on the fact that it is not free is childish.

  56. 56

    As a scientist who has (enjoyed?) publication in a variety of peer-reviewed journals, I acknowledge the potential importance of the process. That said, the lack of peer-reviewed publications is not in itself evidence of lack of efficacy and safety of the treatment. Having viewed the film, it seems much of the medical establishment is lined up against Dr Burzynski (it would be good to have an objective, independent assessment of that!). Moreover, the practice of medicine (and any science) is an opinion-driven process. Thus, if “key opinion leaders” are already decided that your work has no validity, it can be exceedingly difficult to get published in a leading journal, irrespective of the potential strength of the data. From the information provided in the film (unverified), it also seems that any negative “clinical evidence” published by detractors was done so in violation of the protocols developed by Dr Burzynski.

    Like “Ed”, I am not a shill. I do have interest in the subject and I think that outright dismissal is not warranted with the few verifiable facts I have. It would be a disservice to science as a whole if your readers were to walk away from your blog entry with the impression that peer review is some sort of infallible process.

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