A controversial Houston cancer doctor is facing new legal problems from state regulators and from a patient who has filed a fraud lawsuit, Local 2 Investigates reported Wednesday.
Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski, who made worldwide headlines when the Food and Drug Administration brought criminal charges against him in the 90s, now stands accused of defrauding a Stage IV cancer patient from Florida who came to Houston for his clinic's treatment.
Lola Quinlan, 61, claims in her lawsuit that the Burzynski Clinic on the Katy Freeway charged $60,000 to her credit card without her knowledge and defrauded her about the medicine she was receiving as part of her treatment.
She also claims she was misled about the drugs she was given as part of her treatment, and she wasn't told that she was buying drugs from a pharmacy that Burzynski owned.
"I'd like to see them shut down. That's my hope, that he can't do this to anybody else," said Quinlan via a Skype interview with Local 2 Investigates.
She said she was drawn to the Burzynski Clinic by a video advertisement on the clinic's website, and she was hoping the so-called "magic bullet" touted by the clinic would improve her condition.
"It was so perfect that I couldn't even believe it because they weren't going to do the chemo, they weren't going to do the radiation, they weren't going to take anything out," she said.
She told Local 2 Investigates that she was given the "magic bullet," known as antineoplastons, when she started her treatment.
Burzynski's lawyer said that is false.
The antineoplastons were part of Burzynski's legal problems in the 90s when he was indicted on fraud charges. After a trial that made worldwide headlines, he was cleared of any wrongdoing. Patients rallied behind him at the Houston Federal Courthouse, saying he was a cancer pioneer who was saving lives with his cutting-edge treatment.
Richard Jaffe, the doctor's lawyer, said Burzynski is still authorized to perform clinical trials with the antineoplastons, but Jaffe said Quinlan was never involved in a clinical trial. He told Local 2 Investigates she was merely getting "standard" cancer therapy and not the clinical trial medicines.
However, Quinlan's lawsuit accuses Burzynski of using drugs on her that he is only permitted to use in clinical trials, and she claims she was never told she was part of a clinical trial.
Antineoplastons, according to Burzynski's lawyer, are components of a healthy person's urine that Burzynski has been using to treat people who have advanced cancers. A person who has advanced cancer does not have antineoplastons in their system, so Burzynski's clinical trial is aimed at bolstering those cancer-fighting antineoplastons in the sick person, according to Jaffe and Texas Medical Board documents.
Jaffe told Local 2 Investigates that Quinlan must be confused about which treatment she received.
"She wasn't on a clinical trial and she did not get antineoplastons," said Jaffe.
Quinlan's lawsuit said the Burzynski Clinic started charging her credit card without her permission. She and her lawyer said more than $60,000 was charged to her American Express card without her permission.
"When you're preying on people who have cancer, it's the worst of the worst, if you ask me," said Quinlan's lawyer, Jason Gibson.
"He preys on her fears, and charges her credit card $60 to 80,000 basically without her permission, you know, you can't get any worse than that," Gibson added.
Quinlan's lawsuit also said the treatment she received at the Burzynski Clinic actually held back her recovery, causing another cancer clinic to be unable to move forward with a successful treatment.
"Every day I wake up and I think about it, what kind of damage did he do to me, what kind of damage did he do to other people," said Quinlan.
"One of the last things that may go through her head, unfortunately, is that this doctor got the best of her when she could have potentially made a recovery," said Gibson.
Burzynski's lawyer countered that Quinlan's treatment was actually working. While receiving the 'standard cancer therapy' that involves none of the drugs approved only for clinical trials, Jaffe said Quinlan's tumors actually were considerably reduced in size.
Jaffe said she reversed the charges on her credit card after changing her mind about the treatment, pointing out that only Dr. Burzynski has actually lost any money from her treatment.
Quinlan's lawsuit also claims she was defrauded by being steered to buy her cancer drugs from a pharmacy in the same building as the clinic. She claims she had no idea the pharmacy was owned by Dr. Burzynski.
In 2010, the Texas Medical Board received a similar complaint from another patient, prompting the board to issue its own public complaint against Dr. Burzynski.
In the 2010 complaint, Medical Board investigators wrote that Burzynski failed to inform another patient that she was getting drugs from a pharmacy that Burzynski owned.
The Medical Board complaint also asserted that Burzynski used drugs on the other patient, who suffered from brain, lung, and liver cancer, even though those drugs were not approved by the FDA for her condition.
Jaffe told Local 2 Investigates that patients could not possibly be unaware that the pharmacy is owned by Dr. Burzynski.
He said it's located in the same building and it's listed on Burzynski Clinic billing statements.
"She said she was defrauded, she didn't know what these drugs were, but she signed multiple informed consent forms. She has a billing agreement which goes into this in detail," said Jaffe.
"It's not possible that she didn't know that the pharmacy was owned by the clinic," he added.
He said the doctor isn't scamming anyone, but, rather, he is saving countless lives.
"I mean the answer is, do you want five patients? We can give you dozens of brain cancer patients that have been cured by Dr. Burzynski," said Jaffe, who was speaking on behalf of the doctor.
Finally, Quinlan's lawsuit alleges that she was told she was receiving so-called 'magic bullet' drugs that were invented by Burzynski. She later found that the pills she was receiving from his pharmacy were available to anyone at any pharmacy for half the price.
"We thought we were taking some proprietary medicine," she said.
Burzynski's lawyer said Quinlan signed informed consent paperwork for each and every drug she was given, and she must have misunderstood which drugs she was receiving. He reiterated that she was never given the drugs that are only approved for clinical trials.
He said Burzynski's pharmacy did mark up the price of the drug just as any pharmacy would.
"That's the standard markup," said Jaffe.
Quinlan's lawyer told Local 2 Investigates that Burzynski is likely emboldened by his victory in the 90s over the FDA and federal prosecutors.
"It made him feel a little like Superman, fairly invincible, where he could continue to rip off people and do it for years and years and years," said Gibson.
"Had he requested the records, he would have seen that most of what he said in the complaint is nonsense," countered Jaffe.
"Believe me, he doesn't feel like he's king of the world now. He's in constant negotiations with the FDA, trying to raise the money to do these clinical trials and he feels, I think, like the whole world's against him," added Jaffe. "That's really almost silly to think that he feels emboldened because 16 years ago, he didn't go to jail, and didn't get convicted and didn't get put out of business."