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Monday, May 19, 1997

Cancer doctor goes on trial again in federal court

By JOAN THOMPSON / Associated Press Writer

HOUSTON (AP) - A cancer doctor accused of illegally marketing an experimental drug to patients nationwide may face just a single contempt charge at his retrial Monday.

Attorneys for Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski said prosecutors told them they will drop 40 of 41 remaining counts. Those charge the doctor with violating U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations in dispensing an unapproved drug.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Mike Clark refused to say at a pre-trial hearing Friday whether prosecutors intend to only pursue a contempt-of-court charge.

However, Clark acknowledged having private discussions with the defense and told U.S. District Judge Sim Lake that he stood by his commitments.

Jury selection from a pool of 49 potential jurors was to begin Monday afternoon followed by opening statements.

The contempt count accuses Burzynski of ignoring a federal judge's orders in 1983 and 1984 against introducing the drug, called antineoplastons, into interstate commerce.

A conviction on that count has no set penalty. A sentence would be up to the judge. The 40 FDA violations are punishable by up to 120 years in prison.

"(Prosecutors) are telling us the only case they want to try Dr. Burzynski on is the contempt case," defense attorney Dan Cogdell told Lake at Friday's hearing.

Lake, saying he wanted to ensure a fair trial, issued a gag order Friday that bars comment on the case from attorneys, Burzynski, employees of his clinic, witnesses and potential witnesses.

He had declared a mistrial in March when a jury deadlocked on 75 counts against the doctor. He then acquitted Burzynski on 34 counts of mail fraud, saying the government failed to prove the doctor billed insurance companies for treatments he did not perform.

The judge said Friday that he intended to get a verdict. He said he quickly would seat a new jury if a decision is not reached this time.

Prosecutors contend that for years Burzynski dodged FDA scrutiny that would have proved or disproved his synthetic drug.

They say that by the time of his indictment in 1995 he had only six patients in FDA-approved clinical trials.

The doctor, who now treats more than 300 patients in FDA-approved programs, insists he broke no laws. He says his long-running battle with the FDA is part of a vendetta against him.

Burzynski developed antineoplastons, which he discovered in human urine, two decades ago and opened his Burzynski Research Institute in 1983. He says antineoplastons "turn off" cancer genes by interrupting signals for cells to multiply.

Since he had not gotten FDA approval for the drug, the agency sought an injunction more than a decade ago to stop him from treating patients.

Former U.S. District Judge Gabrielle McDonald denied that request but issued the 1983 and 1984 court orders forbidding the doctor from shipping the drug across state lines.

Defense attorneys say those orders do not prohibit Burzynski from treating patients who come from other states. Send a Letter to the Editor about This Story | Start or Join A Discussion about This Story
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