Inspectors shut down cancer therapies at BioPulse's Tijuana clinicBy Sandra Dibble and Penni Crabtree
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITERS
February 16, 2001
TIJUANA -- Baja California health authorities yesterday ordered San Diego-based BioPulse International to cease experimental "alternative" therapies on cancer patients at its Tijuana clinic.
After spending more than four hours inside the clinic, inspectors from the Baja California Health Department took the immediate step of sealing a large room devoted to placing patients into insulin-induced comas.
The unproven, experimental therapy, which the company claims "starves" cancer cells of glucose, is just one of several BioPulse treatments denounced by many U.S. medical experts as useless and potentially dangerous.
"They have nothing that says they are authorized to conduct these kinds of treatments," said Dr. Cesar Contreras, head of inspections for all medical facilities in Baja. "We told them that they must not use these treatments, as they are not authorized in Mexico."
Baja health authorities said earlier this month that they would reinspect the clinic based on information provided by The San Diego Union-Tribune and their own perusal of BioPulse's Internet site. The Union-Tribune reported on BioPulse and its unorthodox clinic on Feb. 8.
BioPulse faces fines and possible closure of its clinic for conducting alternative therapies without the permission of Mexico's federal government, Contreras said. The Health Department will decide what measures to take after it concludes its investigation, he said.
BioPulse can apply for the proper permits and a research license from Mexico's federal Health Secretariat in Mexico City, Contreras said.
"If Mexico authorizes a certain treatment, then we will come and take off the seals so they can continue conducting the treatment," he said.
Portions of the clinic that provide traditional medical care, for which the clinic is licensed, will be allowed to remain open.
Contreras said at least 10 patients were at the clinic at the time of the inspection. He said staff members at the clinic were reluctant at first, but in the end they cooperated with the four Baja health inspectors.
"They understood that they are not following the regulations, and they accepted the measures that were taken," Contreras said.
Baja health officials said they plan to revisit BioPulse's clinic today for further inspections.
John Liviakis, who has acted as spokesman for the publicly traded company in the past, referred telephone calls to BioPulse's chief executive, Jonathan Neville. Neville did not return telephone calls.
BioPulse is in the process of relocating its Salt Lake City headquarters to a 17,000-square-foot facility in San Diego.
The partial closure of the Tijuana clinic and suspension of alternative treatments, which provide the bulk of BioPulse International's revenues, could prove a significant setback for the company. Terminally ill cancer patients, most of them from the United States, pay up to $27,600 for a monthlong regimen of insulin-induced comas and experimental cancer "vaccines."
The company also faces scrutiny from U.S. federal authorities. On Tuesday, BioPulse disclosed in a regulatory filing that the Federal Trade Commission has started an inquiry into its advertising practices -- including whether it can substantiate claims made about its treatments.
BioPulse, in news releases and on its Web site, has touted its treatments since 1999, saying they are "tested" and that the company enjoys "high success rates in treating cancer." But the company has conducted no clinical trials on its therapies and in regulatory filings says its treatments have not been proved effective.
Dr. Steve Barrett, vice president of the National Council Against Health Fraud and founder of Quackwatch, a health-care watchdog organization, called the company "dishonest."
"They suddenly appeared in dubious publications talking about curing cancer," Barrett said. "Well, you can't suddenly appear and claim you cure cancer when the standard is a five-year survival rate. They're coming on with a lot of hype and baloney."
© Copyright 2001 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.