A Day in LLS History

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On October 20, 1944, Robert “Robbie” Roesler de Villiers was only 16 years old when he died from leukemia. Robbie’s parents, Rudolph and Antoinette, were stricken with grief and frustrated by the lack of effective treatments for what was then considered a hopeless disease.

After five years of mourning their son, they started a fundraising and education organization in his name. The Robert Roesler de Villiers Foundation had only a few volunteers and a tiny budget.

At that time, the task to find a cure was extremely daunting. Most leukemia patients, especially children, died within three months. Even by the mid-1950s, when the first-generation chemotherapy drugs began appearing, the disease remained a stubborn challenge.

The Foundation’s 1955 annual report stated: "As of this date, leukemia is 100% fatal. This is almost a unique situation among the many diseases to which man is susceptible."

Driven by the family’s nearly boundless dedication, the Foundation continued to expand with an unrelenting mission to cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease and myeloma, and improve the quality of life of patients and their families.

Today, it is The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS). We’re now the world's largest voluntary health organization dedicated to funding blood cancer research and providing education and patient services.

In our 67-year history, we have invested more than $1 billion in research to advance life-saving treatments and cures, and improve the quality of life of patients and their families. This investment has led to remarkable progress in treatments for patients.

Each decade there have been promising advances. From 1956 when a leukemia patient received the first successful bone marrow transplant to 2001 when imatinib (Gleevec®) was first approved, revolutionizing treatment for patients with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), and introducing a groundbreaking new approach to cancer treatment.

Today, innovations are emerging at a dizzying rate, including immunotherapy and precision medicine, which show promise to dramatically improve outcomes for cancer patients.

And now we’ve come full circle. Just this week we launched our exciting Beat AML Master Trial, a groundbreaking clinical trial for patients with acute myeloid leukemia, among the most deadly cancers. We envision this unprecedented collaboration will stand as a model for future cancer clinical trials and, like we did with CML and immunotherapy, will change the paradigm of cancer treatment.

Louis J. DeGennaro, Ph.D., is CEO and president of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

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