Thursday, February 07, 2013
"Burzynski": Did the government fight progressive anti-cancer treatment to benefit the pharm industry?
“Burzynski” (2010), is an independent documentary (108 minutes) by Eric Merola about cancer researcher Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski, who took on the FDA for almost two decades to win approval for his revolutionary anti-cancer treatment.
The film opens with a half-hour prologue about the medicine of cancer and oncology. There has been debate for some time as to whether there could be a single “cure for cancer” (which would certainly be a popular notion). Burzynski’s work has to do with turning on certain tumor suppressor genes, and turning off genes that can make cell lines immortal.
Hospital companies like “Cancer Centers of America” advertise their treatment as if cancer had some fundamental root cause. Nevertheless, even that company notes that it typically recommends “surery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy” in its television ads. However compassionately given, these treatments can be brutal.
In the prologue, a woman gives an account of how her daughter, with a brain stem cancer, underwent brutal radiation and chemo, lost much of her hair permanently, and was told her daughter would be a vegetable anyway.
During the film, various people present accounts of how they or their children were helped by Burzynski’s radical treatments. Nevertheless, from the 80s on, the Food and Drug Administration went after him as a quack. Burzynski was told that he could only treat patients if he aligned himself with a major pharmaceutical company, and would not be allowed to continue working on his own. Imagine if that concept were applied to Internet publishing!
The FDA prosecuted him relentlessly, and for a time Burzynski would be challenged to raise the funds it took to defend himself. It seemed as all of this persecution was motivated by the desire to protect the big business interests of the pharmaceutical lobby, even if it led to suffering by patients. This film certain has a “libertarian” message, against regulation.
The overzealous prosecution reminds one of what happened to Aaron Swartz.
Even when Burzynski started “winning”, the government started awarding patents to “copycats” of his work from the big drug companies, fitting into today’s discussion of “patent trolling” as with the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Toward the end, there is an anecdote of how a doctor was pilloried into suicide in the Nineteenth Century for recommending that surgeons wash and scrub before surgery, patients died after surgeons who had just worked on autopsies turned around and operated on live patients.
The link for the film is here. It can be seemed by instant play on Netflix.
The entire movie can be viewed free on YouTube right now.