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Ever an optimist, Burzynski has been excited about nearing the end of Phase II trials. Phase III should be right around the corner, a remarkable achievement for a cancer drug. Asked to explain why the FDA seems less antagonistic these days, he says, "It's like a bully on the block. You beat him, and he could become your friend."
He's used to the first round of questions — he's answered these for decades — so his answers are quick, if not altogether sensible. History is replete with renegades who were first ridiculed, then hailed. He says that respected publications were so resistant to Einstein's early groundbreaking theories that he was forced to take out ads in The New York Times, a statement unsupported by historical evidence.
"Everyone who discovers something [meets] resistance," he says. "Why should I be any different?"
Take, for example, that mid-1990s NCI study — the one in which doctors administered doses lower than Burzynski approved of — that was just another "cover-up."
"They're lucky they're not behind the bars," Burzynski says.
But a second interview does not go as smoothly.
When asked if showing three-dimensional topographies of crow's-feet in places like Dubai took time away from that whole cancer thing, Burzynski bristles at what he considers to be an irrelevant question, responding in somewhat broken English.
"I have the right to do whatever research I want, okay?" he says, followed closely by, "I spent 42 years practicing medicine, doing research, and you are little man for asking such question, okay? Maybe in three years I get Nobel Prize, and you'll look like a shit, okay, asking me such stupid questions, okay?"
The Press explains that the reasoning behind the questions is this: Is Burzynski convinced that he's done everything possible to get antineoplastons federally approved, and thus covered by insurance, thus giving a chance to those dying children whose parents can't afford the steep payments? But when pressed as to why — even after the prolonged litigation with the FDA — he still hasn't been able to prove his treatment's efficacy, he is equally offended.
"You know why?" he says. "Because I came to this country with $15 in my pocket, okay? Because I didn't speak English when I came to this country. I learned it by myself. And in order for me to do what I am doing now, I needed to establish a pharmaceutical company. I needed to establish the research institute, okay, from the scratch, okay? And I need to do all of this from my own money, which I am, okay? How many years it would take for you to do it if you come to the country [from] like, say, Afghanistan?"
The Press also asks why, if one of the biggest barriers to sharing a promising cancer treatment with the rest of the world is his language skills, he hasn't enlisted the help of English-speaking scientists.
Burzynski laughs that one off. "Listen your little brain to this thing: I came to this country with $15, okay? How can you enlist somebody, paying him $5 [out of] $15, okay?"
Which leads to one of the most troubling aspects of the Burzynski saga: Why have no credible oncologists stood up for him? Why don't oncologists regularly refer their patients to his clinic? Why aren't the greatest minds in medicine calling for the swift approval of antineoplastons?
If they are out there, the Press needs to hear from them. Burzynski obliges as best he can, throwing out the name of perhaps his biggest ally in medicine (using that term loosely). That is Julian Whitaker, an alternative medicine practitioner who claims to be "board-certified in antiaging medicine." That could be true — it's just a question of which board he's talking about. One thing is for sure: It's not the American Board of Medical Specialties, which is what most doctors are talking about when they say "board-certified." The ABMS does not recognize "anti-aging" as a medical specialty. When asked for the names of supporting doctors who don't have Web sites featuring "Rollback Savings!" on their lines of nutritional supplements, Burzynski eventually comes up with Bruce Cohen, a brain tumor specialist at the Cleveland Clinic. Cohen did not return calls.
"Certainly, some doctors don't like me, because they would like to do whatever I did, okay?" Burzynski says. "Everybody would like to establish his own pharmaceutical company...They are begging for scraps from the government. They are living on grants. I did it [by] myself."
And that appears to be the other side of the story, the one that Burzynski would probably say wouldn't belong in his biography. The story of how, as objectionable as the bureaucracy behind drug approval can be, it is the only way of getting lifesaving medicine to those in need. A doctor who plays outside the system — no matter how righteously — risks losing his right to practice medicine altogether.
So, for Burzynski, the real story does not appear to be the system, or necessarily medicine itself. It appears to be a story of independence and financial success. Of not relying on the help of other people to achieve your dream. To Burzynski, it's a powerful story.
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