(WUSA 9) The co-chair of tomorrow night's Leukemia Ball is living proof of the progress medicine has made in the fight against blood cancers.
Jim Davis remembers being a guest at the very same affair in the year 2000. He says, "Years ago, I went to my very first Leukemia Ball, and I remember it was a great event. Jay Leno was there; it was just a fun time!"
It was a fun-filled event, that also featured a momentous announcement. Attendees were told about a new drug called Gleevec that was about to get FDA approval for a rare form of cancer called chronic myeloid leukemia or CML.
Davis says, "I remember turning to my wife and saying 'this is a great drug, but there are only 5,000 patients per year and it would only affect very few people, but for those people it would make all the difference."
"Two years later, I am white water kayaking, having a great time. I come back, perfectly healthy, go to get a routine physical, and my blood levels are sky-high, and within a week, I am diagnosed with CML," he says.
That rare cancer is now part of Jim Davis's life forever. But because of Gleevec, an oral chemotherapy he takes as a pill each day, his disease stays in remission. Gleevec skyrocketed the remission rate for this particular type of leukemia from about 55% to 95% today.
Davis says the drug's impact cannot be overestimated. He says, "What Gleevec has done for me is, number one, I'm here today. I've led a perfectly normal life the last nine years. I play tennis several times a week, and I haven't missed one day of work because of leukemia."
The former pharmacutical executive says theLeukemia and Lymphoma Society funded the early science that made Gleevec possible, and says such research dollars are especially critical now.
Davis says, "We all know, particularly in the DC area, sequestration is having a major impact on NIH funding and there will be less funding available. We need to fill that gap and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society is there to fill that gap for blood cancer victims. "