Burzynski and Big Tobacco

A guest post by Keir Liddle

In 1977 Stanislaw Burzynski left Baylor University to start his own clinic and continue his “research” on Antineoplastons.

Burzynski revealed in a 1979 edition of Penthouse magazine that his superiors at Baylor College advised him to pursue other avenues of research, discouraging his efforts in cancer research and that his funding was at first decreased and then discontinued.

The article also makes reference to the first investigations of Burzynski’s clinic and his “treatment”. How he was told, back in the late seventies, not to publicise his treatment and how he couldn’t get a grant from the NCI or the American Cancer Society.

Faced with a lack of financial support from reputable funding sources Burzynski had to think outside the box.

Where did this lead him?

To the tobacco industry.

In a letter written to the “Council for Tobacco Research USA”, a body created by the tobacco giant Philip Morris, Burzynski requests funding for “the development of a preventative medicine” that could potentially be used in tobacco manufacture.

Burzynski, later to invent cancer-preventing toothpaste, seems to have wanted to put antineoplastons in cigarettes.

Unfortunately for Burzynski the council spent a lot of money on advertising and very little on actual scientific studies. It closed down in 1999.

The council, originally called the Tobacco Industry Research Committee (TIRC), claimed that its mission was to find out whether smoking was dangerous, and if so then the CTRs job would be to try and make cigarettes safe to smoke.

However, according to an internal tobacco industry memo titled “The Roper Proposal”, written in 1972 by Fred Panzer of the Tobacco Institute,  the  actual purpose of the CTR was:

promoting cigarettes and protecting them from these and other attacks


… creating doubt about the health charge without actually denying it, and advocating the public’s right to smoke, without actually urging them to take up the practice.

United States Judge Hadden Lee Sarokin, who presided over two New Jersey tobacco cases, described TIRC/CTR in 1988 as:

nothing but a hoax created for public relations purposes with no intention of seeking the truth or publishing it.

Sound familiar?

CTR’s work was described by the Wall Street Journal in 1993 as:

the longest-running misinformation campaign in US business history

Yet Burzynski, in his desperation, turned to them for funding. Ironically I think they would have made a pretty good match.

Several emails give the impression that big tobacco was watching the Burzynski affair with great interest, to determine whether they could use it to undermine the then director of the FDA.

Though clearly Burzynski didn’t know the true purpose of the CTR given this indignant response to the refusal of his funding request.

3 responses to “Burzynski and Big Tobacco

  1. From page 1 of the letter to the CTR:
    “In 1977 Dr Burzynski began treating humans [with antineoplastons]”
    He’s been doing this for 35 years and still hasn’t managed to publish the results of a full trial.

  2. neverdefiled

    Wow. Stan’s like an onion with layer upon layer of sheer quackery.

  3. Or, it could have been that Burzynski failed to renew his grant, and his Chair, being a Chair of a department of anesthesia and all, didn’t see the point in his continuing to do cancer research, which is more appropriately carried out in an oncology department, biochemistry department, or pharmacology department. Somehow, I doubt that there was any sort of grand conspiracy by The Man to keep Burzynski down. Whatever happened at Baylor, clearly there was some sort of a falling-out between Burzynski and the administration of the department of anesthesia, whether it was from his lack of grant funding or other conflicts. However, Burzynski used what happened to his advantage to construct the myth of the Great Man whose vision forced him to leave to pursue his scientific dream. Perhaps there was a grain of truth to that at the time he left, but over time in retrospect, now that we know what happened and how Burzynski turned out, it’s harder for an objective observer to accept that narrative. After all, why would a department of anesthesia support cancer chemotherapy research—which, let’s face it, Burzynski was doing—particularly if the investigator was losing his NIH funding? My guess, which could be wrong, is that Burzynski chewed through his startup funds between 1972 and 1974, parlaying them into an NIH grant, but was unable to keep the momentum going and renew that grant. Probably his department put up with him because he had achieved NIH funding and every department in a medical school loves an investigator with NIH funding, but was less enthusiastic about it when he lost that funding. In any case, the 1970s were a critical period in the development of the myth that is Burzynski. I’d love to know what really happened in the years leading up to 1977 that led to his leaving Baylor. All we get now are stories designed to make Burzynski look like a “brave maverick doctor” and a scientist on par with Galileo.

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