The only thing worse than doing something ugly and wrong is covering it up. Especially when what you've done gives aid and support to those whose outrages are costing innocent people their lives. We are talking here about cancer, about an effective treatment called hydrazine sulfate that the government hates -- and about the layered lying and outright deception by the government that keeps this drug from the American people.
Also about the betrayal of the public trust by the General Accounting Office, a federal watchdog agency that had the information and the power to blow the whistle on the National Cancer Institute and the N.C.I.'s determined efforts to destroy hydrazine sulfate -- but instead chose to conspire with that agency to cover up its campaign to kill a drug that offends and threatens the cancer establishment.
The story, like life, is complicated. Many of the villains have solid track records of medical accomplishment. But it is their appalling conduct in this case that is our focus. It is an understatement to say that tens of thousands of Americans will pay in bone-deep pain and premature death because of what the hydrazine-sulfate suppressors have done. Caught, and angry about being forced to attend the meeting in the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., late last summer, Mark Nadel, associate director of the G.A.O., was experiencing a most uncomfortable moment. And it showed -- his face was etched with controlled rage. An odd chain of events had thrown Nadel into a new and alien role. After all, his organization's audits of executive-branch agencies often make for embarrassing findings-- like the billions of dollars worth of weapons the Pentagon's bookkeepers cannot find -- and the press dutifully reports them.
In these stories the G.A.O. (the investigative arm of Congress) is always cast as the good guy, riding to the rescue of the taxpayers. Not this time, and not in this place. It was a warm, sticky day, and the pinstriped Nadel looked as though he had just swallowed a large glass of curdled milk and had nowhere to spit it out. With two other G.A.O. officials at his side, he sat across from me in a conference room of the Permanent Senate Subcommittee on Investigation. Nadel glared in my direction and told subcommittee chief counsel Jeff Robbins -- who had ordered the G.A.O. to appear at the meeting -- that his team would walk out if a reporter, namely myself, was permitted to remain in the room. (Robbins would later describe Nadel and company as "apoplectic" at being put in the same room with me.) Missing from Nadel's group -- excluded from it -- was G.A.O. assistant director Barry Tice, a 28-year veteran of probes of government agencies, who had relentlessly pursued the truth throughout a 14-month investigation of the N.C.I.'s handling of the conduct of clinical trials of the effectiveness of hydrazine sulfate. "What does Nadel have to hide? What could he have been fearing about my attendance?" Tice said to me in an interview.
There is substantial evidence that hydrazine sulfate is an effective, inexpensive anticancer agent. Then why is it on the American Cancer Society's Unproved Methods List? The young woman in the doctor's waiting room shook slightly, her emaciated hands constantly darted to the back of her head to check the knot of her kerchief. The kerchief served to conceal the fact that most of her auburn hair had fallen out. The look of desperation and confusion in her eyes expressed a pain that consumed her whole body. Most of the people in the small waiting room hoped that the doctor could help her. They didn't know that it was the doctor himself who had put the woman in such a pitiable condition. She was just one more patient undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. The toxic side effects of chemotherapy were well documented. The patient literally wastes away, his body under attack by both the cancerous growth and the cytotocic chemical agents used to kill the growth. The blood cell count drops dangerously low and the entire immunological defense system is practically destroyed. At times major body organs permanently cease normal functions. The damage often is irreversible: many times the patient cannot recover even if the cancer vanishes completely.
After surgery and radiation were found to be ineffective treatments for most cancers, chemotherapy emerged as the great hope of the 1950s and 1960s. Unfortunately the use of these "wonder drugs" put the cancer patient in an even more dangerous and painful condition. Today, 20 years later, chemotherapy has not improved the low remission rate that exists with conventional therapies; it remains between 7 and 8 percent. In addition, it is estimated that as many as 25 percent of cancer patients treated with chemotherapy will develop additional cancer as a result of the treatment. Thus, the development of new anticancer substances is a vital issue among many cancer researchers. Such a substance may already have been found: hydrazine sulfate. At least one prominent researcher has called it the "single most effective anticancer agent available." For the past ten years, hydrazine sulfate has been the subject of a heated debate among the nation's largest cancer research institutions.
That's a hard thing to swallow. We're an outsider." Throughout medical history many important advances have come from outsiders, such as Galileo, Semmelweis, Pasteur, Fleming, and others, whose ideas were considered to be scandalous by the establishment. Later the value of their theories was realized, but the period between discovery and acceptance is often a long one. It is often the case that people suffer and die while the medical establishment is slow to accept positive new evidence. Today over 400,000 people die each year from cancer in the United States alone, and it is estimated that this year one in four Americans will get cancer. In an attempt to cut short the period between discovery and acceptance of hydrazine sulfate which is now in its tenth year of controversy. Dr. Gold has made unusual attempts to contact and work with both the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society. His major concern is to remove the stigma of the "Unproven Methods List" from the drug so that more research will come about. Dr. Gold has been in direct contact with Dr. Frank Rauscher, executive vice-president for research at the American Cancer Society. The two men have known each other since Rauscher was director of the NCI a few years ago, and over the years they have developed a working relationship. Still, Dr. Rauscher has told Dr. Gold that he "could not guarantee" that a proposal on hydrazine sulfate would go through. But he has encouraged Dr. Gold to submit a research grant proposal for hydrazine to the ACS. Dr. Gold refuses to do so until the ACS "stops its defamatory-type actions on hydrazine sulfate." "I communicated to them by letter," said Dr. Gold in a recent interview, "that until the ACS literally 'cleans up its act' on hydrazine sulfate, I couldn't in good faith submit such a proposal. I thought good faith was the leavener of all business transactions. There's no point to my having good faith when the ACS still distributes loaded information." Although the situation with the ACS on hydrazine sulfate is at a stalemate, the National Cancer Institute seems to have a guarded, but slightly more open, attitude. Dr. Saul Schepartz of the NCI says, "Hydrazine is a rather controversial drug, but we don't care about its prior history. If there's good scientific reasons for testing it, we will. Based on the data that the Russians have presented, however, we are not initiating studies. . . . But we're willing to support grant applications having to do with hydrazine if they receive proper priority from the Grant Review Committee. The general area of research on cachexia is definitely one that we are interested in." Right now the most important research on hydrazine is obviously not being conducted at the larger research institutes, but by doctors all over the country who have been treating their terminally ill patients with this drug.
The rest of the story: