ASCO Mourns Pioneer of Combination Chemotherapy Dr. Emil J Freireich

Published February 2, 2021

The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and the oncology community are saddened by the news that past president Emil J Freireich, MD, FASCO, passed away on February 1, 2021. Dr. Freireich was 93.

Dr. Freireich was a trailblazer in the use of combination chemotherapy, and his discoveries gave incredible new hope to children with leukemia and their families at a time when the diagnosis was essentially a death sentenceHe worked as part of a team of researchers to develop multiagent combination chemotherapy regimens that would eventually lead to a cure rate of more than 90% in children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL)He was the first physician to perform leukocyte transfusion and show that peripheral blood stem cells could be engrafted, a discovery that led to allogeneic bone marrow grafts. Additionally, he helped develop allogeneic platelet transfusion for managing thrombocytopenia and developed the first continuous-flow blood cell separator. 

Emil Jay Freireich was one of the founding fathers of clinical oncology, whose contributions to crafting curative treatment regimens for patients with ALL and recognizing the value of platelet transfusions to prevent fatal hemorrhage saved countless lives and provided proof of concept that cancer could be cured with chemotherapy,” said ASCO chief medical officer and executive vice president Richard L. Schilsky, MD, FACP, FSCT, FASCO.

Read more in ASCO Connection.

An Interview With Dr. Freireich on His Groundbreaking Research

Published August 28, 2019

Welcome to Cancer Stories. I’m Dr. Daniel Hayes. I’m a medical oncologist and a translational researcher at the University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center. And I’ve also had the privilege of being the past president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. I’m privileged to be your host for a series of podcast interviews with the people who founded our field. Over the last 40 years, I’ve been fortunate to have been trained, mentored, and also, frankly, inspired by these pioneers. In fact, it’s my hope that, through these conversations, we can all be equally inspired by gaining an appreciation of the courage, the vision, and the scientific understanding that led these men and women to establish the field of clinical cancer care over the last 70 years. In fact, by understanding how we got to the present and what we now consider normal in oncology, we can also imagine, and we can work together towards a better future for our patients and their families during and after cancer treatment.

Today, my guest on this podcast is Dr. Emil J. Freireich, who is generally considered one of the pioneers of combination chemotherapy. Dr. Freireich is currently the Ruth Harriet Haynesworth chair and distinguished teaching professor in the Department of Leukemia at the Division of Cancer Medicine at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. He was raised in Chicago during the Great Depression, the son of Hungarian immigrants. Dr. Freireich attended the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Chicago starting, unbelievably, at age 16. And from there, he also received a medical degree in 1949.

Read more or listen to the interview in the Journal of Clinical Oncology’s “Art of Oncology: Conversations With the Pioneers of Oncology” podcast series.