At The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) we're committed to funding research to help cure patients with leukemia, lymphoma, myeloma and related malignancies and improve their quality of life.
When LLS was founded in 1949, a blood cancer diagnosis was almost always fatal. Thanks in part to innovative research funded by LLS, survival rates have doubled, tripled and even quadrupled for blood cancer patients.
LLS Researcher Spotlights
In fiscal year 2011, LLS invested more than $76 million in blood cancer research.
- Acute myeloid leukemia (AML), $18.2 million
- Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), $15.7 million
- Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) and myeloproliferative diseases (MPD), $10.5 million
- Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), $9.8 million
- Myeloma, $8.4 million
- Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and small lymphocytic lymphoma (SLL), $6.4 million
- Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), $4.3 million
- Hodgkin lymphoma (HL), $3.2 million
LLS is a driving force behind breakthroughs in treating blood cancer patients. Below are just a few highlights that showcase the progress that's been made during LLS's six decades of relentlessly focused research support.
The first chemotherapy drugs were developed for lymphoma and leukemia patients, including children. William Dameshek, M.D., Joseph Burchenal, M.D., George Hitchings, Ph.D. and Gertrude Elion, D.Sc. were leaders in this new field. Drs. Hitchings and Elion received Nobel prizes for their work, and helped guide LLS research funding in the early years.
The first combination chemotherapy was developed for childhood leukemia patients. Emil Frei, M.D., James Holland, M.D. and Emil Freireich, M.D. led the effort and Dr. Freireich advised LLS research programs from our inception.
The first successful bone marrow transplants were performed. E. Donnall Thomas, M.D. served as long-time advisor to LLS and received the 1990 Nobel Prize for his breakthrough work.
Cancer-causing "oncogenes" were discovered. Geoffrey Cooper, Ph.D. and J. Michael Bishop, M.D. were among the leaders of this new field; both served as LLS advisors.
The 1990s to present
Molecular understandings of normal and malignant blood cells make new "targeted" anti-cancer drug therapies and immune-stimulating therapies possible, as well as supportive-care "growth factors" that can revitalize patients' blood systems after chemo- and radiation therapies.
Understanding which genetic and molecular abnormalities cause particular blood cancers has more recently led to new targeted drugs that selectively kill cancer cells, generally sparing normal cells and causing fewer side-effects than previous standard therapies. LLS funded these advances at critical points. What's more, many of the blood cancer treatments we've funded have gone on to benefit patients who have other types of cancer.
Below are highlights of several recent successes and new directions.
Gleevec®: A Revolutionary Drug for CML Patients
Since its approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2001, Gleevec® has become the standard first-line therapy for newly diagnosed chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) patients. LLS helped advance this groundbreaking targeted therapy and supported the researchers who helped develop the more recently approved drugs, Sprycel® and Tasigna®. These drugs make it possible for patients to survive many years with good quality of life. The 10-year survival rate has been remarkably improved, from approximately one in ten to nearly nine in ten for chronic phase CML patients (including children). Gleevec® is also approved for patients with rare skin and stomach tumors, and showing promise in many other cancers.
Velcade®: Improved Outcomes for Myeloma Patients
Before Velcade® was approved in 2008 as a first-line therapy for myeloma, patients' median survival rate was less than three years. Today, thanks to Velcade® and other new targeted drugs, people with myeloma have a median survival rate that's three times longer, and they are living with better quality of life since the drugs are less toxic than previous treatments. Velcade® is also approved for people with mantle cell lymphoma, and is being tested as a treatment for other cancers including other lymphomas and leukemias.
Rituxan®: A Targeted Therapy for Lymphoma Patients
Rituxan®, a monoclonal antibody drug, was FDA approved for follicular non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) patients in 1997. In fact, it was the very first targeted drug approved in the U.S. LLS-funded researchers found that Rituxan® can dramatically improve chemotherapy effectiveness, and the FDA approved Rituxan® to be used in combination with other chemotherapy drugs for people with follicular lymphoma and other non-Hodgkin lymphoma types. It's contributed to a doubling of the survival rate for NHL patients, and is now also FDA approved as a treatment for patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia or Hodgkin lymphoma.
Immunotherapies: Building a Stronger Immune System
Many people with blood cancers suffer from weakened immune systems caused by immune (white blood) cells becoming cancerous and overwhelming normal immune cells, and/or by the powerful treatments that cancer patients receive. Our researchers are working to (1) target the malignant immune cells while leaving healthy cells untouched and (2) strengthen patients' healthy immune cells through the use of vaccines, antibodies or growth factors. Immunotherapies can reduce patients' risks for life-threatening infections and effectively fight the cancers too.
Making Today's Therapies Safer
Beyond debilitating a patient's immune system, standard cancer treatments can cause other serious long-term and late effects. While supporting the development of entirely new targeted therapies and immunotherapies, LLS is also funding researchers who are working to learn how to predict, manage and even prevent these effects that reduce a patient's quality of life or even threaten their life.
For example, aggressive therapies for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) save many children with this cancer, but can cause significant medical complications. While some LLS-funded experts are developing new, less toxic treatments for pediatric ALL, other LLS investigators are discovering genetic risk factors that can help predict problems before they happen and treatments that reduce the severity of late treatment effects when they occur.
The Therapy Acceleration Program: Speeding Up Progress
Despite so many advances, blood cancer research can be a slow-moving process. Relentless in our determination to get better treatments to the patients who need them, we launched the Therapy Acceleration Program in 2007. It's goal is to bring more promising new treatments to more patients faster, by:
- providing the funding and support needed to help researchers bring their projects closer to the product stage,
- partnering with biotechnology companies to develop cutting-edge therapies that might not otherwise reach blood cancer patients,
- overcoming obstacles that may prevent patients from participating in clinical trials that can provide the best possible treatment for many patients.