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The Departure of Art Robinson and Fallout from the First Mayo Clinic Study

By Scarc
Art Robinson, 1974.

Art Robinson, 1974.

[A history of the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine, Part 3 of 8]

By late 1978, the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine had reformed its fundraising strategy, an action which proved to be quite successful. As a result, for the first time in its five years of existence, LPISM was not struggling to keep its head above water.

This wave of good fortune carried with it unforeseen negative consequences. In particular, Rick Hicks and Art Robinson began to come into conflict over the best way to invest this sudden surplus. Robinson suggested that LPISM move to Oregon – which had recently announced “Linus Pauling Day” in honor of its native son – and build a campus of its own. The idea was not popular with many staff, most of whom did not want to leave the Bay Area.

At the same time, Robinson began cultivating ties with the Orthomolecular Research Institute in Santa Cruz, California, which was headed by Arnold Hunsberger. Linus Pauling was not pleased with this idea, as he felt Hunsberger’s research hypotheses to be off the mark. Pauling had also met Hunsberger and had said that his impression was “not a very favorable one.”

Robinson continued to press for closer ties between LPISM and ORI, a source of growing tension between him and Pauling. In particular, Pauling was angered when he learned that Robinson had begun to tailor experiments in accordance with Hunsberger’s ideas without first consulting Pauling. When confronted, Robinson defended his decision and redoubled his arguments for collaboration. Their relationship continued to sour and morale at LPISM plummeted as the tension between Pauling and Robinson mounted.

In June 1978, Pauling issued a memorandum to Robinson, ordering him to consult the Executive Committee - comprised of Pauling, Robinson, and Hicks – before making “any important decisions.” Robinson responded by immediately firing Hicks. Pauling responded in turn by overruling the termination and demanding Robinson’s resignation within thirty days. He then proceeded to issue a memorandum informing Institute staff that he had stripped Robinson of his position, and that the staff was to disregard all further instructions from Robinson. The next day, the staff arrived at work to find a second memorandum from Robinson, declaring that he was still the president, that neither Pauling nor Hicks had the authority to relieve him of his duties, and that he would not resign.

Pauling memorandum of July 10, 1978.

Pauling memorandum of July 10, 1978.

The Board of Trustees met in mid-July to try and settle the dispute. They decided to place Robinson on a thirty day leave of absence, empowered Pauling with all executive authority and told him to resolve the issue. On August 15, with Robinson’s leave expired, Pauling was elected President and Director of LPISM. On August 16, Pauling promptly informed Robinson that he was taking over all of Robinson’s research, Emile Zuckerkandl was being appointed Vice-Director, and that Robinson was fired.

Now that Robinson was gone, LPISM attempted to consolidate and return to normal. Pauling asked Steve Lawson to assume a portion of Robinson’s research agenda, a request to which Lawson consented. Over the course of 1978, Lawson had steadily become less involved with the financial arm of LPISM and more involved with its scientific work. Zuckerkandl also tasked Lawson with setting up a cell culture facility where the two would conduct research on the differences between primary and metastic cancer cells, as revealed by protein profiling. Lawson worked closely with UC-San Diego, University of Colorado, and SRI International. He was later joined on that project by Stewart McGuire, Eddy Metz, and Mark Peck, all fellow employees at LPISM.

Robinson, however, did not take his firing lightly and on August 25, LPISM was informed that Robinson was suing the organization for $25.5 million, alleging a breach of contract and unlawful termination among other charges. LPISM’s lawyers began gearing up for a serious legal battle, standing firm in their conviction that the Institute had done nothing wrong.

Meanwhile, the Institute’s vitamin C research continued on despite the added burden of the Robinson lawsuit. In early October 1978, Pauling convinced Ewan Cameron to accept a one-year appointment to LPISM while the two worked on a book about vitamin C and cancer. Additionally, Pauling, Cameron, Lawson, and their coworker Alan Sheets began an experiment to determine the effects of vitamin C on chemotherapeutic drugs. The research took the form of a toxicology experiment in which multiple groups of fish were subjected to chemotherapeutic agents in their water, after which various groups were given different amounts of vitamin C while the research team observed the results.

The year 1979 started with good news. LPISM was informed by Hoffmann-LaRoche, the world’s largest producer of vitamin C, that they had seen sales more than double during the 1970s, and they fully recognized that Pauling was the cause. As a thank you, they had decided to donate $100,000 a year to the Institute.

The happy days were not to last long. In April, LPISM received an advanced release of the results of the major Mayo Clinic study on the treatment of cancer with ascorbic acid. Its primary investigator, Charles Moertel, had concluded that vitamin C did absolutely nothing to help cancer patients. Pauling was stunned and immediately began writing to Moertel to discuss the study in detail.

Then, over the summer, Art Robinson filed six more charges against LPISM and Pauling, bringing the total number of suits to eight and the total requested damages to $67.4 million. The year-long and highly publicized suit was greatly hurting LPISM’s reputation, and the Institute noticed a subsequent decrease in the donor funds flowing their way.

The Departure of Art Robinson and Fallout from the First Mayo Clinic Study

“Vitamin C Fails as a Cancer Cure,” New York Times, September 30, 1979.

Things then went from bad to worse when, on September 27, the New York Times published the Mayo Clinic study, definitively stating its conclusion that vitamin C was useless in treating cancer. Pauling immediately responded by pointing out that the patients involved in the test were undergoing cytotoxic chemotherapy, which he felt crippled their immune system. He also asserted that the trial was not conducted for long enough to develop accurate results.

Pauling's response to the New York Times article, October 24, 1979.

Pauling’s response to the New York Times article, October 24, 1979.

Charles Moertel returned fire, defending his results and questioning Pauling, implying that he was fanatical in his zeal for vitamin C and refused to acknowledge the truth. Pauling and Moertel began exchanging volleys in public, writing articles and giving interviews that attacked the research and competence of the other. Unfortunately for Pauling, he took the worst of it, as many people began to agree with Moertel, thinking Pauling to be too enamored with vitamin C to see any negatives. Funding plummeted as donations shrank and LPISM began finding large numbers of grants rejected outright with no chance for an appeal.

Pauling refused to give up. Shortly after the New York Times article was released, he and Cameron published their book, Cancer and Vitamin C. Pauling personally bought 16,000 copies of the publication and mailed them to every member of Congress and to countless other physicians and researchers. This action helped Pauling’s cause significantly as many of the recipients read the book, or at least glanced through it. And even those recipients who didn’t read the text were made more aware of Pauling and his research. Likewise, in the marketplace the book sold well despite the bad reception it received from professional reviewers – the public seemed interested in Pauling and Cameron’s ideas.

In light of this, National Cancer Institute head Vincent DeVita agreed to a second round of trials. However, in doing so DeVita once again chose the Mayo Clinic to host the trials and chose Moertel to lead them. Pauling was furious with these decisions, an understandable point of view considering that he and Moertel had spent the past few months publicly accusing one other of being incompetent.  Pauling was also now without his co-author: their book completed, Ewan Cameron returned to Scotland to fulfill his duties at Vale of Leven Hospital. Before leaving, he was appointed a Research Professor at LPISM for a period of five years.

With a new decade approaching, the easier times of the mid-1970s were clearly gone and by early 1980 the future was once again uncertain. While the tensions evident during the Art Robinson era were now history, his lawsuits and the Mayo Clinic trials severely detracted from the future prospects of LPISM. Unfortunately for the Institute and Linus Pauling, their immediate future was not going to be a happy one.

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