When St. Jude founder Danny Thomas opened St. Jude on February 4, 1962, he created an organization as rare today as it was then: a research hospital where children with catastrophic diseases receive free cutting-edge medical care.
St. Jude is celebrating its 60th anniversary with a year-long slate of events commemorating the legacy of advances in the understanding and treatment of pediatric cancer and other deadly diseases. As one of the largest and most beloved health care charities in the country, St. Jude is a unique organization, blending clinical care with scientific research. At the same time, the organization’s leaders are laying the groundwork across scientific, clinical and global operations that will prepare the institution for another 60 years.
“We remain committed to the vision of Danny Thomas,” said James R. Downing, MD, President and CEO of St. Jude. “In answering the charge of finding cures and saving children, St. Jude has launched the largest strategic expansion in its history to further scientific knowledge, increase cure rates and develop global networks to improve access to pediatric cancer care.”
Inspiring generations of supporters
“My father would be filled with gratitude – as am I – for the incredible kindness and generosity of every single St. Jude supporter,” said Marlo Thomas, National Outreach Director for St. Jude. For six decades, his legacy has been lovingly passed on from one generation to the next. The dedication of so many extraordinary people enables St. Jude to continue breaking barriers in treatment and cures for our precious families – that was my father’s dream and that is exactly what every child in America and around the world deserves.”
As a struggling young entertainer, Danny Thomas made a desperate plea to St. Jude Thaddeus, the patron saint of lost causes, vowing that if the saint helped him find his way in life, he would build a shrine in gratitude. When success arrived, Thomas was true to his word based on advice and input from a diverse set of experts he consulted, founding St. Jude as a beacon of hope to the sickest of children. Since then, his children and grandchildren in partnership with many other visionary leaders have inspired new generations of St. Jude supporters. Such support has allowed St. Jude to grow into one of the largest pediatric cancer research hospitals in the world.
Thanks to millions of donors cultivated by ALSAC, St. Jude continues to honor its commitment to research and world class care grounded in a founding promise: that no family receives a bill from St. Jude for their child’s treatment, travel, housing or food, so they can focus on helping their child live.
Extraordinary science meets outstanding patient care
“At our institution, we often ask, ‘If not St. Jude, then who?'” Downing said. “It is our responsibility to leverage our collective knowledge, talents and resources to tackle the unanswered questions that will help children in our hospital and far beyond.”
In 1962, the medical establishment generally assumed that acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), the most common pediatric cancer, was uniformly fatal. To treat the cancer, clinicians gave one drug after another with temporary success. Soon after its founding, St. Jude launched the Total Therapy clinical trials, an unconventional approach to fighting leukemia.
These studies combined multiple anti-cancer drugs along with radiation therapy to prevent relapse. Within 10 years, St. Jude raised the survival rate for ALL from 4% to 50%. This was the first significant cure rate for generalized cancer and for drug treatment of cancer. Building on this discovery over the course of decades, doctors have raised the survival rate to 94% today at St. Jude.
During the past 60 years, St. Jude research has yielded insights into how normal cells work and how alterations within their DNA contribute to the development of cancer and other childhood catastrophic diseases. This knowledge has served as the basis for improvements in diagnosis and treatment, helping to push the overall childhood cancer cure rate from 20% when the hospital opened to more than 80% today.
St. Jude investigators have also contributed volumes to the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases, such as influenza and HIV/AIDS; and nonmalignant hematological diseases, including sickle cell disease and X-linked severe combined immunodeficiency, also called bubble boy disease, a rare, hereditable immunodeficiency.
In 2022, St. Jude is celebrating its 60th anniversary with a year-long slate of events commemorating the legacy of advances in the understanding and treatment of pediatric cancer and other deadly diseases.
Advancing the mission
The next 60 years will be shaped significantly by the scientific and clinical programs outlined in the recently launched six-year $11.5 billion St. Jude strategic plan. Through the plan, the hospital is adding 1,400 more jobs; investing $1.9 billion in construction, funding renovation and capital needs; and pursuing new avenues of research for sickle cell disease, pediatric neurological disorders and infectious diseases that affect children.
The plan also triples investments to fund St. Jude Global, a worldwide initiative launched in 2018, to reach 30% of the childhood cancer burden. This is complemented by a partnership with the World Health Organization and others to increase survival rates to 60% in low- and middle-income countries for six common cancers by 2030. The collective has already begun work on the Global Platform for Access to Childhood Cancer Medicines, which will create a pipeline, supported by a $200 million investment from St. Jude, that provides an uninterrupted supply of quality cancer drugs to participating centers in low- and middle-income countries. The program is expected to impact as many as 120,000 young cancer patients in 50 countries by 2027.
Learn more about the 60-year history of St. Jude and how you can be part of the next 60 years.