Preview Mode Links will not work in preview mode

JCO's Cancer Stories: The Art of Oncology podcast series consists of author interviews and professional readings of the section’s content. This platform provides authors with the opportunity to comment on their work, offers better accessibility for readers, and stimulates more conversations. Art of Oncology publishes personal essays, reflections, and opinions in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, giving our readers a chance to reflect on important aspects of practice and help shape our professional discourse. We hope you enjoy listening to these thought-provoking stories.

The series also includes interviews with pioneers of the field of oncology. These conversations bring fascinating insights into the scientific basis for the evolution of cancer care as well as the courage, vision, and ability to overcome logistical barriers to make the advances that we now take for granted. By understanding how we got to the present, we can work toward a better future.

Cancer Stories is hosted by Dr. Lidia Schapira, MD, FASCO and Dr. Daniel Hayes, MD, FASCO, FACP.

Dr. Lidia Schapira Dr. Daniel Hayes

Dr. Lidia Schapira is the consultant editor for JCO’s Art of Oncology. She is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine where she serves as the Director of the Cancer Survivorship Program. Dr. Schapira’s research interests are in the field of breast cancer, psychosocial oncology and health disparities. She serves as Editor-in-Chief of ASCO’s Cancer.Net, a website that provides expert vetted information about cancer to patients and caregivers.

Dr. Daniel F. Hayes is the Stuart B. Padnos Professor of Breast Cancer Research.at the University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center. Dr. Hayes’ research interests are in the field of experimental therapeutics and cancer biomarkers, especially in breast cancer. He has served as chair of the SWOG Breast Cancer Translational Medicine Committee, and he was an inaugural member and chaired the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Tumor Marker Guidelines Committee. Dr. Hayes served on the ASCO Board of Directors, and served a 3 year term as President of ASCO from 2016-2018.

All guests on ASCO podcasts agree to provide evidence-based information to our listeners. Guests agree to provide objective commentary free from commercial bias, and they agree to respect patient privacy. Conflict of Interest disclosures in connection with the content of the podcast will be provided with each episode.

Disclaimer:

The purpose of each podcast is to educate and to inform. The podcast is provided on the understanding that it does not constitute medical or other professional advice or services. It is no substitute for professional care by a doctor or other qualified medical professional and is not intended for use in the diagnosis or treatment of individual conditions. Guests who speak in a podcast express their own opinions, experience, and conclusions. Neither American Society of Clinical Oncology nor any of its affiliates endorses, supports, or opposes any particular treatment option or other matter discussed in a podcast. The mention of any product, service, organization, activity, or therapy on a podcast should not be construed as an ASCO endorsement.

Terms of Use
Privacy Policy

Jan 24, 2020

Dr. Hayes interviews Dr. DeVita about his role as Director of NCI and his time with CHOP and MOPP.

 

TRANSCRIPT

[MUSIC PLAYING] The purpose of this podcast is to educate and to inform. This is not a substitute for professional medical care and is not intended for use in the diagnosis or treatment of individual conditions. Guests on this podcast express their own opinions, experience, and conclusions. The mention of any product, service, organization, activity, or therapy should not be construed as an ASCO endorsement.


[MUSIC PLAYING]


Welcome to JCO's Cancer Stories, The Art of Oncology, brought to you by the ASCO Podcast Network, a collection of nine programs covering a range of educational and scientific content and offering enriching insight into the role of cancer care. You can find all of the shows, including this one, at podcast.asco.org.


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'm the past president of ASCO. I'm really privileged to be your host for a series of podcast interviews with the founders of our field.


In this series of podcasts, I hope to bring appreciation of the courage and the vision and most importantly the scientific background among the leaders who founded our field of clinical cancer care over the last 70 years. I hope by understanding the background of how we got to what we now considered normal in oncology, we can all 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. Vincent T. DeVita, best known as Vince. Dr. DeVita is generally considered one of the so-called Gang of Five, including Doctors Canellos, Young, Chabner, and Schein, who I've been trying to get on for this podcast in the future, all at the NCI, and who brought many of the concepts we now accept as standard into the clinic in the 1960s and '70s.


Dr. DeVita is currently a Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology and Public Health at the Yale School of Medicine. I think it's also fair to say, Dr. DeVita was instrumental in the passage of the 1971 National Cancer Act. And I want to hear more about that as we get into this.


He was director of the NCI and the National Cancer Program from 1980 to 1988 and then moved to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center as Physician in Chief and subsequently became the Director of the Yale Cancer Center in 1993. Among his many honors-- and I don't have time to go through them all-- but he has served as President of the American Cancer Society. And I think most dear to me, he was President of ASCO in 1977 and 1978. Dr. DeVita, welcome to our program.


Nice to be here, Dan.


I've done a little background. I know you grew up in the Bronx. And I know you went to William and Mary for undergrad and George Washington Medical School. And I also read what I didn't know, which is that you did your internship and residency at the University of Michigan.


We're recording this just before the NCAA basketball tourney. And I have to say, go blue. We're all excited here in Ann Arbor about our basketball team.


[LAUGHTER]


What I'm really interested in is, were your parents physicians? Or what made you choose medicine out of the Bronx?


Well, no, my father was a banker. And my mother was an interior decorator. So it was kind of a funny mix.


But I think it's kind of peculiar. I was growing up, and my mother-- I tell this story in my book. My mother was kind of frightened by the fact that I really, as a seven- or eight-year-old kid, really thought the guy who delivered the ice-- in those days, we had ice boxes-- was terrific. And I wanted to be like Nunzi the iceman.


And she panicked and said, no, no. You're going to be a doctor. And every time someone asked me what I was going to be, I just said I was going to be a doctor. And when I went to school, I decided I'd be a doctor. It was sort of Mama driving me in that direction.


So you had a choice of being an iceman or a doctor [LAUGHS].


Right. I like-- I mean, biology was always a favorite subject of mine. So it was a good fit.


And tell me about how you ended up going to the NIH and choosing oncology. Was that serendipitous? I talked to Bob Young the other day. And he said, fundamentally, he hadn't planned to be an oncologist and got to the NIH and liked it. Was that your role, or did you know you wanted to do cancer from the start?


No, I was going to be a cardiologist. In fact, when I was a first-year resident, I did cardiac catheterizations and was a co-author on a paper that for a long time was well-cited in the field. So I applied to both the Heart and Lung Institute and the Cancer Institute.


And those are very competitive positions. And I had an interview with Robert Berliner, which didn't go well [LAUGHS]. So I didn't get invited to the Heart Institute. And I went to the Cancer Institute.


And when I walked in, Dr. David Rall was the chief of the pharmacology branch. And I asked him if I could work on the pharmacology of digoxin. And he, wise person that he was, said, sure. Go ahead if that's what you want to do.


And I was surrounded by people who were working on anti-cancer drugs. And I actually became fascinated with them. And it was only a few months, because I was also on the wards at the time, that I said, oncology is the way to go. It was an exciting new field. It was kind of a funny field in those days. But I found it exciting, so I switched.


So just to give you a plug here, I think many of us know that you wrote a book, The Death of Cancer, published a couple of years ago, co-written with your daughter Elizabeth by the way. But in it, you described a number of things. And one of those that I loved were your stories about Gordon Zubrod.


And I trained with Dr. Frei at the Dana-Farber. He always had great things to say about Dr. Zubrod. And I wonder if you could tell the folks listening in who he was-- I think most people don't even know that-- and the impact he had on our field.


Yeah, I used to call him the great umbrella. The field was very controversial at the time. And so the people who were doing things like saying, I'm going to try to cure this cancer-- leukemia in Frei's case and Hodgkin's in our case-- were considered just a little bit this side of insane. He was somebody who was distinguished.


Now, Frei had-- Zubrod had been at St. Louis as a professor and also at Johns Hopkins. And he was a very distinguished-looking man and a very polite, careful man. And so he used to provide sort of the umbrella for all of us, so that [INAUDIBLE] he'd take the heat. And we could go on and do our work.


So he was-- he did enormous number of things. I mean, the whole clinical trial structure was established by Gordon Zubrod. The phase I, II, III trials was all done in a paper by Gordon Zubrod in the late 1950s. So I think he was just a guy who had foresight and was a great leader.


I ultimately took his job. He got tired of bucking the bureaucracy and retired and went to Florida as the director of their cancer center there. So I got to know him pretty well. And like Frei, I have great admiration with him.


I mean, it's interesting how we take phase I, II, and III for granted. And when he came in, and not too long before you came in, those things weren't-- nobody really knew how to do this stuff. Doctors Frei and Freireich were already at the NCI when you got there, correct?


Yes, indeed. Yeah, they were.


Yeah.


And so they must have been inspirational.


They were, and especially Freireich. Freireich was always on the wards. And Tom didn't come over to the wards very much. He was sort of the direct-- he was chief of medicine. And Freireich was the chief of the leukemia service. So we saw Freireich all the time. Tom came over once in a while.


And Jay was a super doctor. And it was very hard to stay ahead of him. You'd get an x-ray on a patient. And he'd call you up 20 minutes later and tell you what it was. He was already down looking at it. So you had to stay on your toes with Jay.


And of course he was, as everybody knows-- Jay-- he was a bold guy, who-- I mean, he looked like he could walk through a wall. So he frightened a lot of people. But he was an inspiration. So I'm always grateful for what Jay Freireich taught me.


There's a great story in your book, that Dr. Frei has told me as well, about the first platelet transfusion at the NCI. Can you elaborate on that? I think most folks don't know about that story.


Platelet transfusion was, again, one of those radical departures. But Freireich reasoned that we were losing more people from bleeding than we were from leukemia. So he worked out a way of plasma pheresing people and collecting platelets. And we didn't have a lot of the expertise we have now.


And they came in quart bags. I mean, they were plasma bags that were huge. And we were treating little kids. So they were-- throwing them into heart failure was a problem. So it was pretty radical. And he was told to stop doing it by the clinical director at that time.


And in fact, he was told that if he didn't stop doing it, he was going to be fired. And he told me-- he said, I went back to my office, sat down, and thought about it. And I decided I didn't want to work at a place where I couldn't do that. So I just kept on doing it. And the person who said he was going to fire him never did. But that was Jay Freireich.


[LAUGHS]


He believed so strongly in it. And when I went to Yale right after I left the Cancer Institute-- I finished my residency up there. And I told them-- when I saw leukemia patients who were bleeding-- and I said, what you should do is platelet transfusions. And they said, they don't work.


And I said, I used them. And I saw them work. So I think we're losing patients unnecessarily. It was just very controversial. So eventually I left the program.


I was going to take a residency and then a fellowship in hematology there. And I decided to go back to the Cancer Institute where these adventurous things were going on. Times are different now, of course.


Dr. Frei once told me a story that he-- you may have been with him-- that he was making rounds in the clinical center. And in those days, apparently, the adults and the kids were in the same ward. And there was a child with essentially no white cells, who'd been induced for leukemia, and a man next to him with CML.


And so-- and actually, when Dr. Frei told me this, I kind of said, I don't think I want to hear this story, because he said, well, you know, the kid didn't have any white cells. And the guy next to him had way too many white cells. So [LAUGHS] I said, tell me you didn't do this.


He said, yeah, we took platelets out from the guy and gave them to the kid. And the kid got better for a while. It was really exciting. I thought, boy, you don't see that anymore.


Yeah, I mean, it was a very reasonable thing to do, because the white cells in a chronic myelogenous leukemia patient work very well in terms of fighting infection.


Yeah.


So there was no reason. And the kids, otherwise, wouldn't survive. And so, yeah, I was there when we got these-- we gave these. I mean, they weren't easy to give, because they stuck in the lungs. And we didn't have HLA matching at the time. So they were-- a lot of them were mismatched.


But for a while, they were effective. And then we went to collecting white cells from normal people. But the white cells had not worked as well as platelets had worked.


Platelets have been a lifesaver. Now it's a couple of hundred million dollar business each year now. So it's routinely done, as many things that Jay started are routinely done now.


Of the many things for which you are credited, I think it's the use of combination chemotherapy for Hodgkin's and then subsequently non-Hodgkin's that is one of your lasting legacies. There must have been a lot of drama around doing that. I mean, I think we all just assume you're going to start protocol. You write the protocol. You get funding for it. And you go forward.


But can you give us some stories about sitting around at night and thinking about how to do this? Or how did you choose those drugs and why and how to give them and the obstacles that were involved?


Yeah, actually, it was a very complicated process. And we didn't have the information we have now. What we had was-- I was doing this with Jack Moxley, who left active medicine and became a dean after he left the Cancer Institute. But we're still in touch.


And Jack was working with [? Sy ?] [? Perry ?] using the new isotope, tritiated thymidine, looking at the bone marrow of CML patients and also of mice. And I was doing the same thing with the leukemia 1210, which was a model that we used for chemotherapy all the time. And what we were trying to do was figure out the kinetics of human versus mouse marrow, so we could develop schedules that humans would survive.


We quickly found out that you can't use the mouse as a model, because their blood cells went through a kinetic phase about half the length of humans. So you had to schedule in a different way. So we worked that out.


And then we looked at very simple-- something that people really ignored is that when you give a chemotherapy agent that is toxic to the marrow, you don't get abnormal blood counts right away. For a week, you'll have a normal white cell. And then on day seven or eight, it begins to fall, because the storage compartment in the marrow works well for about a week. And then there's no replenishment. And the white count falls.


So between the two, looking at the marrow and looking at the white cells in the periphery, we came up with a schedule for MOPP. And then the other things were simple. We just decided that you'd have to have three or four drugs that worked by themselves.


There had been people doing combination chemotherapy before-- Tom Hall in Boston and [? Alan ?] [INAUDIBLE] at Yale. And their rationale was they're looking at a sequential biochemical blockade. But they ignored whether the drugs actually worked against the tumor, assuming that if you gave them together, that the biochemical blockade would dominate.


And it didn't work. In fact, it was very discouraging. But we decided the way to do it was take drugs that had some activity in the disease and use them together and use them in full doses in the schedules that we worked out because of the prior work I was telling you about. So it took a while to put that together.


And then Jack Moxley and I used to do this at a bar in Georgetown called the Lehigh Grill, where we used to-- my cardiology desire-- I used to go to Georgetown where there was a wonderful cardiologist Proctor Harvey, who used to hold Thursday night sessions. You had an auditorium that was wired. So you could hear heart sounds. And after that, we'd go to the Lehigh Grill. And we sort of put together the protocol.


When we presented it to Tom, he thought it was a good idea. But the other people around him thought it was insane and really tried to stop it.


Tom Frei?


Yeah.


Tom Frei, yeah, yeah.


Well, Tom was supportive. Yeah, Emil Frei was his real name. But everybody called him Tom. Yeah, he was supportive. But the people around him and my immediate boss was very much against it, because he thought it would interfere with the protocol that they were doing and so forth.


So Tom worked out a solution worthy of Solomon. He said, OK, we could do-- the magic number for phase I trials in those days was 14. If you got nothing in 14 patients, then you didn't go any further. So we could do 14 patients with the first protocol, which was called MOMP-- M-O-M-P.


And we had to do the workups ourselves. We couldn't use other colleagues to work up the patients. And we had to go get the patients ourselves. So Jack Moxley and I did all those things. And the results were very encouraging.


And then Jack left. And I sat down and decided that we'd put procarbazine. I was working on procarbazine. It was then called [INAUDIBLE]. And I was working on it and doing the pharmacology in the phase I study with it in Hodgkin's disease. It was a promising candidate. So we put it in. And that became MOPP.


Also in those days, six weeks of therapy was it. They didn't get more than six weeks. We reasoned that the marrow problems would be acute. But you'd have to give it probably for a long period of time to affect the tumor.


So we gave it for at least six months or to a complete remission plus two months. And we assumed that there were cells left after we couldn't see them. So it was a lot of good thinking that went into it that turned out to be correct, because most of the-- since then, a lot of protocols follow the same sort of routine. And it really works for a lot of cancers.


But it was controversial. I went to the AACR meeting. This was before ASCO. And I presented it as an abstract. And David Karnofsky, who was sort of a god at that time at Memorial Sloan Kettering, just tore me apart.


And what was I doing using the term complete remission for a solid tumor. He said, that was a term that was used in leukemia. Now, I didn't say it. But I'm thinking, the reason you use them is you can get complete remission. So we had complete remissions.


And I was kind of shaking with the microphone in my hand at the time. So it was a scary but it was a good experience.


I have to say--


So it just gives you an idea that people were not receptive [INAUDIBLE].


Those of us who are junior to you can't imagine that you were intimidated by somebody else [LAUGHS].


Well, I was a youngster, then. I was-- Jack Moxley and I, I would say, thinking back, we were cocky. But the big guys in the field could scare me. And Zubrod was a-- I mean, Karnofsky was a big guy in the field.


Yeah.


He just had a hard time getting out of the leukemia mind frame. And so of course, we've used complete remission since then in any kind of solid tumor where you can get one.


In your book, you have a great quote that you presented somewhere. And Dr. Frei was there. And Wayne Rundles was there. Wayne, of course, has been at Duke for 100 years. And he said, do your patients speak with you after you're done?


Well, Wayne Rundles-- when he first saw the MOPP protocol, Wayne Rundles said, that's nonsense. He said, I get the same thing with nitrogen mustard by myself. Well, nobody had ever got that with nitrogen mustard. So we actually had to set up a controlled trial and do it and prove that MOPP was better.


So when I presented it when we were first starting it-- at a meeting. Tom had arranged this meeting with all the bigwigs in the field. And when I presented it at that, everybody was sort of quiet. And then Wayne Rundles raised his hand. He looked pale. He raised his hand and said to me, Dr. DeVita, do your patients speak to you after you do this?


[LAUGHS]


So he-- a few years later when we were obviously getting good results, he invited me to grand rounds. And by then, we were good friends. And I was up on the podium. And after I gave the talk, he was sitting down below smiling at me.


And I said, Dr. Rundles, if you remember, you asked me if your patients speak to you when you do this. And I can tell you that they do for a lot longer. So it was fun. But it was fun. He was a good friend by then. And I had great respect for him.


Actually, he was a very nice man.


He was.


When did you start thinking that you had a success? Was it during those first 13 patients or 14 patients that you treated? I mean, was it obvious right away, or did you start [INAUDIBLE]--


Well, it was obvious--


--you were in the wrong place?


We put-- no. We thought it pretty early, because we were worried. We put patients in reverse isolation. Nobody knew whether you were going to kill them if you gave them all these drugs together. And it turned out the first surprise was, yeah, they had the usual toxicity. But it really wasn't that bad. So it was doable.


And the second was-- we had a small number. But we had-- something like 80% of the patients went into a complete remission. And I think nobody had seen that. Now, the question was, how long were they going to last?


So we were optimistic. And when we put patients on it, there was no cure for them at that time. And we said, we're optimistic that this is going to be something that will last. But we don't know.


And then by three years, it looked pretty good. And I think I presented the first abstract four years after we started. And by that time, we had relapse-free survival curves. And again, nobody before that time had presented relapse-free survival curves in any of the lymphomas. So by then, by four years, I think we felt we had probably cured some patients with the disease.


I asked Bob Young this same question. Did you feel a sense of history at the time, that this was really historical? Or did that come later when you looked backwards?


I think what people don't realize about those days is neither Freireich nor ourselves were treating leukemia and Hodgkin's disease. In other words, we weren't out to develop a treatment for those diseases. We were out to prove you could cure cancer with drugs, because nobody believed it. If you said that, they really thought you had gone balmy.


So we were out to look-- so we knew if we could do it, it would be historic. So we were excited when we looked like maybe it was going to happen. By that time, when we had first reported it, the VAMP program that Freireich did, which was an historic program-- he only had 17 patients. And they actually never published a paper on VAMP. And I asked Jay why they never did that. And he said because he didn't think they would accept it anywhere.


So but by that time, they were getting about a 50% complete remission rate going four or five years. And they were thinking they're curing leukemia. And we were getting 80% complete remission rates. So I think everybody felt that we were going to prove that you could cure cancer with the drugs. And we did.


So yes, in a sense, we set out to do something that would be historic. And so when it happened, I think, it is. It was a sort of a door opener for medical oncology in Hodgkin's disease.


I'd like to turn now for just a minute to your role in politics. You were pretty instrumental, I think, when the National Cancer Act was signed in 1971. And that also sounds like a TV drama to me. It sounds like-- and I know this anyway, but in reading your book, it was not clear that was going to get through. Can you give us some of the playground behind that and Mary Lasker's role and how that happened?


Well, Mary Lasker played a big role. The MOPP program actually played a big role, because Mary Lasker was sort of working in the background. Cancer was always a cause for her.


But when we did the MOPP program, there was a guy named Luke Quinn, who she had hired to be a lobbyist, who was sort of hidden in the American Cancer Society so they wouldn't realize it was Mary Laskers' lobbyist. And he was referred to me by Sidney Farber.


And I didn't want to take him at first, because he was diagnosed as having gall bladder cancer. And I said to them, you know-- I said to Sidney Farber, I don't really treat patients with gall bladder cancer. And there was silence on the phone. And he said, (SOMBER, COMMANDING VOICE) you will take this patient.


[LAUGHS]


So I took the patient. And when I examined him, when he came down and I examined him, he had adenopathy in both axillae. And gall bladder cancer just doesn't do that. So I had to do another biopsy.


He was not a pleasant guy. So it was not easy to do these things. I had to get another biopsy. And it turned out that my pathologist at the time, Costan Berard, when he compared the biopsy, he said, it's a lymphoma, clearly. It was a diffuse, large cell lymphoma.


What they had done is, because Claude Welch did the surgery-- a very famous abdominal surgeon-- and he said it was gall bladder cancer, that the pathologist sort of assumed it was. And it was a compression artifact. Long story short, he went into remission.


And Mary Lasker went gaga. Wait a minute. We got something here. And that was what pushed her to get her friend, Senator Ralph Yarborough, to put up a committee on cancer to come up with the Cancer Act. And--


So it must have been quite a day when President Nixon signed that.


Yeah, well, it was-- I wasn't at the signing. I wasn't high enough up in the chain to be invited to the signing. But yeah, I have all the photos of him signing it. And later when I met him-- I have a picture in the book of he and I shaking hands and him looking like he's having a roaring laugh. People ask me what I said that was funny. And I have no idea.


But when I asked him, I said what is your greatest achievement as a president? He said two-- opening up China and signing the Cancer Act. So he was--


Really?


Yeah, so I think he was proud that he did that.


That's a great story. Actually, the other story I had not heard, but read in your book-- I'd like you to tell me about your lunch with Mr. Featherstone.


[LAUGHS] Featherstone Reid, his name was. Well, this was a very-- this was a regular occurrence. Mary Lasker, when she came to town, would stay with Deeda Blair, Mrs. William McCormick Blair, who was a Washington socialite and had a lovely house on Foxhall Road.


And they would have lunches and dinners. And they always arranged it so that people-- the scientists sat next to somebody with influence. And this is how they influenced the Congress to put more money into the cancer program.


So one time, I got a call in the morning from Deeda Blair, saying, I'm having a lunch. We'd like to have you there. And I said, gee, I-- it's too short notice. I can't do it. And she said, well, Mary really wants you to be there. Mary was hard to say no to.


So I rearranged my schedule, drove down to Deeda's house. And there was a big black limo sitting in the front of the house. I went in, and they introduced me to Featherstone Reid. I had no idea who he was. And every time Mary would say, we want more money for research with leukemias and lymphomas. Vince, tell him about what's going on. And I would tell him about.


At the end of the lunch, he left. And Mary and I sat down on the couch to have a cup of coffee. And I said, Mary, who is Featherstone Reid? And she said, he's Warren Magnuson's driver. And when she saw the shock on my face-- Senator Warren Magnuson was the chairman of the appropriations committee of the Senate.


When she saw the shock on my face, she said, wait a minute. When Mrs. Maggie-- he takes Mrs. Maggie shopping during the day. And Mrs. Maggie-- he fills her with all this information we're giving him. And then Mrs. Maggie is the last person to put her head down on the pillow next to Warren Magnuson.


This is the way she worked. She would take someone like Magnuson, who was a good friend, but she would surround him with extraneous people who would say the same thing. So it was sort of like subliminal stimulation for him. He was always hearing these positive things. And then he supported the program. She was a piece of work.


I never got to meet her. But it sounds like she was a force of nature.


She was.


And of course, the Lasker Award is now named for her and her husband and sort of the American Nobel Prize. She's had such [INAUDIBLE].


Yeah, and our crew won it in 1972-- Frei, Freireich, myself, and other people for other things. So I'm very fond of Mary Lasker, obviously.


It's just a wonderful story.


And I got to know her pretty well, so.


I have one other question. And I'm not sure you'll want-- if you don't want to go off on it, we can edit it out. But in your book, you talked about Howard Skipper and Frank Schabel. And Dr. Frei used to talk about them all the time.


And I think it's worthwhile to bring them into the history of what we do. Did you actually work with them or collaborate with them, or just base some of your ideas on what they had in mind?


When I was starting at the Cancer Institute, I thought Schabel worked at the Cancer Institute-- I mean, Skipper worked at the Cancer Institute, because I would be working in the lab. I was doing the tritiated thymidine studies on L1210 mice. And he would be looking over my shoulder.


He was doing the similar studies, but he was just doing it with cell counts in the abdomen of the mice. And he thought that was good enough. And he was there at a weekly meeting we had, which George Canellos named the Society of Jabbering Idiots. It was a great, great meeting, actually.


[LAUGHS]


And he was there all the time. And my view and Tom's view differ a little bit on Skipper. I think he was a real driving force, that he did the studies in mice that we were doing in the clinic with people.


And he actually-- in 1964, he wrote a paper showing that you could cure L1210 leukemia. It was the first example of curing a mouse with leukemia. And I think-- so it was sort of a feedback mechanism between the Cancer Institute and the Southern Research Institute.


So and he did-- he used to do these booklets. And I think he published hundreds of these booklets. Some of them, we convinced him to actually publish as papers. But I have the collection. There may be 100 booklets he wrote.


And he would take a concept that we were working on and then work through it in mice. It was very, very important. And he was a wonderful person. His only problem was he smoked like a chimney. But he was-- I liked Frank and Howard.


Yeah, Dr. Frei had the entire set of monographs on his bookshelf in his office and would encourage us to come in and borrow them and read them and come back. And frankly, he basically predicted what you've done with combination therapy. He predicted adjuvant therapy working. There were just a number of things he saw in these mice that we've gone on to apply in the clinic. It's pretty remarkable, I think, so.


Yeah, I mean, it's not only he predicted it. But he actually showed the concept worked in mice. So as we know, mice and human are very different [INAUDIBLE]. There was a guy in Boston, Stuart Schlossman, a very fine scientist. And he didn't like mouse models. And when asked what he would do when he saw a tumor-bearing mouse, he would say, I would step on it, because he didn't believe mouse models.


And but Frank and Howard did experiments and made allowances for the difference between humans and mice. So it was always good to know. I mean, I have the summary he wrote on Hodgkin's disease after he saw the MOPP program. So I think they're very instructive booklets. So I kept them. Like Tom, I think that we sort of live by them.


Well, thanks for discussing them. I think our listeners need to remember these two guys. They were great.


We're running out of time. I've really just touched the surface of what you've done and contributed to the field. And the people you've trained is sort of a who's who of oncology, frankly. But at the end of the day, what's your-- I'll ask you the same question you asked President Nixon. And that is, what is your legacy? What do you want people to remember that Vince DeVita did?


I get asked that question a lot. And I don't have one thing that I can say. I mean, I've been lucky in my career that I've had a chance to do many things.


Being the Director of the Cancer Institute was wonderful. You could sit on top of the whole field and just sort of scan it and see what's going on. And it was very important, because you've become the spokesman of practicing physicians at the same time.


MOPP, of course, was important. Putting out the first comprehensive textbook in the field and watching it-- we just came out with the 11th edition-- is also very exciting. So there-- we were the first to successfully treat Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia. And we reported it in a paper in the New England Journal. I mean, there were a lot of things.


I'm best known, I think, for MOPP, probably, and the principles of MOP, which I'm very proud of. But there's so many that I have a hard time. I like opera. And people ask me, what's my favorite opera? And I usually say, it's the one I just saw.


It's very hard for me to pick one opera. There's so many that I like. So I'm not dodging it. But I just never can say, well, it's this.


That's very fair. Frankly, I think, without your contributions, I probably wouldn't be sitting here doing what I do. And I think there are thousands of us who would say that. So we're--


Well, that's very flattering.


Well, not only are we appreciative, more importantly, there are a lot of people who are alive who wouldn't have been without what you and your colleagues did at the NCI that so many years ago, so--


[INTERPOSING VOICES]


I was involved in the training of 93 medical oncologist. At one time, something like 40% of all the [INAUDIBLE] directors were our graduates. So they have gotten around. And that was good for the field. They went out with the same principles we were developing at the Cancer Institute, so that's very gratifying.


Have you kept in touch with any of the patients that you're treated back at the NCI? I talked to Saul Rosenberg. And he told me he still sees people that he treated 30 or 40 years ago when he first moved to Stanford.


We're writing a paper on the 45-year follow-up of the first 188 patients. Again, nobody has 45-year follow-ups. And we called every one of the survivors. And there's something like 60% or so of the complete remissions are alive.


So I talked to some of them. But we had a nurse talk to a lot of them. And I got messages from them after the call. And some of them still contact me, after sort of an anniversary of their treatment. So yeah, I've kept up with them.


The gratifying thing is most of them are suffering from the same illness as most people who are getting into their 70s or some of them 80s. They have hip problems and so on and prostate cancer. But there doesn't seem to be any really major increase in anything in these long survivors.


Now, mind you, these were patients who got MOPP as their only treatment. And so when you see second tumors in these kinds of patients, it's usually patients who got radiation therapy plus MOPP. So these patients who are 45 years had just got MOPP. And they seem to be perfectly fine.


That's remarkable. I love your comment that they are getting the same illness as the rest of us get as they get older. That's great.


Yeah, we don't cure bad hips and bad knees and--


Yeah, we can't cure old age. When I was at the Dana-Farber, I had a patient who had been one of Sydney Farbor's original patients from the early '50s. And by this time he was obviously an adult. He was older than I was. And he was fine, as you've said.


Although he said Dr. Farber kept treating him and treating him and treating him. And then finally, when Dr. Farber passed away, someone else picked up his chair. And they said, why are you still getting this? And they stopped it.


Yeah.


So he got a lot of treatment.


I had one of Freireich's VAMP patients. She was a girl in her early teens. And she was a wildcat. But she had had something else, and it failed. And she was one of the first patients on VAMP. And she went into remission. And she stayed in remission.


And I followed her for many years. She went to college. She got married. She had children. She brought her children in to see me. And last time I had any follow-up with her, she was in her 60s. And she was one of the really first long survivors of that particular program. So it's really neat to see these patients.


And it's not rare for me to go to a meeting and have people walk up to me and say they got MOPP 25 years ago. Someone else gave it to them. And they're alive and well. So that's one of the great gifts of having a chance to do this kind of work.


What a privilege. Well, I think we need to end. Again, I want to thank you for being on with us today and filling us in with some of these stories. Had really good feedback for my podcast series. And it's because of the people I've had on it. So thank you very much for all you've done.


It's really good talking to you. And I look forward to listening to all your podcasts.


[MUSIC PLAYING]


Until next time, thank you for listening to this JCO's Cancer Stories, The Art of Oncology podcast. If you enjoyed what you heard today, don't forget to give us a rating or review on Apple Podcast or wherever you listen. While you're there, be sure to subscribe so you never miss an episode.


JCO's Cancer Stories, The Art of Oncology podcast is just one of ASCO's many podcasts. You can find all the shows at podcast.asco.org.


[MUSIC PLAYING]