Emil “Tom” Frei III

BMJ 2013; 347 doi: (Published 12 July 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f4448
  1. Ned Stafford, Hamburg
  1. ns{at}

Pioneer of combination chemotherapy

In 1983 Emil Frei was at a press event in New York City when a woman in her 30s approached him. “Dr Frei, do you know who I am?” she asked.

Frei, at the event to accept the General Motors Kettering Prize for cancer research, did not recognise the women. She told him her maiden name. Now he remembered. As a 7 year old girl, she had been his cancer patient at the National Cancer Institute. Frei had successfully treated her, using his groundbreaking combination chemotherapy.

“She was the mother of two children,” Frei later said,1 recalling the happy reunion. “We hugged, and I told her that this was what it was all about. It’s a life and death situation here thrown together.”

In the 1950s, when Frei and colleagues began their combination chemotherapy work, acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in children was uniformly fatal. Frei showed that treatment with multiple chemotherapy agents could produce lasting remissions in children. Combination chemotherapy is now the foundation for treating many adult and paediatric cancers.

“Dr Frei and his colleagues saved the …

View Full Text