During his last three years in Arizona, Durie kept his position as professor while also serving in a high-profile role somewhere else. He’d been hired as head of the department of blood diseases at the University of London, and was flying back and forth to do both jobs.
Forming the Foundation
It was during that same time period that Durie began treating Brian Novis, who was in his early 30s when his multiple myeloma was discovered during a routine life-insurance blood test.
Eventually, Novis had his stem cells harvested at the University of London, and he and Durie took some time to talk. In a tea shop in the center of London, the two hatched the idea to start the IMF.
“Brian felt that this whole bone marrow stem cell therapy was pretty barbaric, and that there should be some more modern type of therapy that was not so drastic but would work,” Durie recalled. “Brian came back to the United States and created the foundation as a nonprofit in California. We faxed a lot of documents and did a lot of work day and night setting up all the things needed to get the foundation going.”
Two or three years later, when Novis died, Susie called Durie with a frantic question: What would become of the IMF?
“Everyone felt the foundation was important, because it had started to do some good things, so ultimately I decided I would come back to the States and continue as its medical director and the chairman of its board,” Durie said. Susie, meanwhile, left a corporate job to manage the business side of the organization.
To facilitate his move, Durie called a good friend, H. Phillip Koeffler, MD, currently the Mark Goodson Chair in Oncology Research at Cedars-Sinai, and asked if there were any positions available there. Koeffler was happy to have Durie’s help and hired him immediately.
Leaving his post in London wasn’t a difficult decision for Durie, who was disillusioned with the work he was doing.
“It seemed attractive at the time to have the responsibility and the prestige, but it turned out to not be the ideal job in terms of my focus on myeloma,” he said. “I was in charge of too much, including the medical school teaching program and running the administration for the department. That did focus my attention about what I really wanted to be doing. The answer was not ‘sitting in meetings about administration until 8 or 9 o’clock at night.’”
What Durie did want was to use the foundation to address the concerns he’d developed about myeloma treatment during his years in Arizona.
Photo courtesy of the International Myeloma Foundation
Dr Durie works with Juan Du, MD, PhD, of Changzheng Hospital in Shanghai, China, whom the International Myeloma Foundation awarded a special research grant to develop a novel prognostic model.
After developing his stem cell assay there, he remembers realizing that the circumstances of the moment were imposing limitations on what the test could accomplish.
“One issue was that patients had to travel to the center to get the test, because it was hard to mail the sample in, and the other was that we simply didn’t have enough drugs to test yet,” Durie said.
Equally unsettling, he said, was watching the university’s myeloma center become “somewhat elitist. Patients with money, or who were able, would travel sometimes very, very long distances to get specialty assessment and care; yet, I wanted to provide education and help for every patient with myeloma. I also thought that there must have been a better way to get information and feedback to doctors without having them all travel to Arizona. These were the seeds of the idea for the foundation.”
Through the organization, Durie has also had a chance to rectify some of the personal challenges that affected him in his younger years.
Previously divorced and the father of two grown children, Durie looks back with regret on the family time he missed when he traveled the world to lecture. But these days, the doctor is enjoying a better balance between his personal and working lives.
“Susie and I both work for the foundation,” he said, “so when we go to meetings, we travel together and don’t have to be apart.”
Through his years in the myeloma field, Durie has seen the outlook for patients get better and better.
Early on, treatments with chemotherapy “did work, but remission lasted only a year or two, at best,” Durie said. “Later, we moved into the stem cell transplant procedure, which got a much deeper remission, but, unfortunately, was still not curing the myeloma. Now we have the novel agents, and these are the ones which have made such a dramatic difference.”