Clinical trials in haematology in Australia start with Max Whiteside, a true pioneer. He was the first to conduct a clinical trial in malignant haematology in the mid 1970s. He also established Victoria’s first adult bone marrow transplant program. Max retained involvement in the ALLG predecessor groups and was made a life member of the organisation in 1994.

The beginnings of our organisation in 1973 that led to the ALLG

The first formal organisation set up with the specific purpose of conducting haematology clinical trials came into existence in 1973. Dr Fred Gunz (Sydney Hospital) convened a meeting of seven haematologists from different parts of Australia including Paul Vincent, Ian Cooper, David Penington, Ed Sage, WR Pitney and Richard Kimber. Jane Matthews (biostatistician) and Reg Motteram (pathologist) also attended.

This was the first collaborative trials group in the field of haematology/oncology established in Australia, and the ALLG dates its formation to this meeting.

Originally the group was called the NHL Cooperative Chemotherapy Study Group, but adopted the name of the Australian and New Zealand Lymphoma Group (ANZLG) in 1981.

Ian Cooper was one of the founders of chemotherapy in malignant haematology in Australia and the first in this country to publish on the cure of Hodgkin Lymphoma with chemotherapy. He was instrumental in setting up the ALLG’s original predecessor group, the Australian and New Zealand Lymphoma Group (ANZLG) in 1973 and was Chairman of the group subsequently for 20 years.

The Australian Leukaemia Study Group (ALSG) was established in 1982 when Ray Lowenthal and Paul Vincent called a meeting of haematologists interested in conducting trials in leukaemia.

The ANZLG and the ALSG cooperated closely in the 1990s and merged formally (in 1999) as the Australasian Leukaemia and Lymphoma (ALLG). Subsequently the Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT) group, which had run BMT trials for a number of years, ceased to operate separately, and its activities were incorporated into the ALLG framework.

Jim Bishop AO was one of the original co-founders of the ALSG and was a key driver of leukaemia trials and led a number of acute myeloid leukaemia studies in the 1980’s. Jim’s career had taken him to leading other agencies including Chair Cancer Institute NSW, Chief Medical Officer of Australia, and Executive Director of the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre.

Jane Matthews was instrumental with Ian Cooper in setting up the ANZLG in 1973 and was responsible for statistical advice for majority of protocols until 2003, and almost every publication of trial results to that date and beyond; until she became semi-retired in 2003. She brought high ethical standards in oversighting trial management; in particular in relation to ethical issues and data integrity. In her trials reports she set a standard of comprehensiveness, level of detail, clarity of expression and scientific accuracy that remain a model in our trial reports to this day.

First trial, first patient, first publication

Our first trial was for non-Hodgkin lymphoma. First trial patient was registered in 1974. The trial was presented at the COSA ASM in 1979 and even received an invitation to present at the Lugano Conference (International Conference in Malignant Lymphoma) in 1981. Thus our group entered the international stage from its earliest days. NHL1 was published in 1982 (Australia and New Zealand non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Cooperative Chemotherapy Study Group 1982).

Trials improve care for patients with acute non-lymphocytic leukaemia

Conducted a number of studies in the 1980s to improve treatments for patients with acute non-lymphocytic leukaemia including AMLM3, AMLM4, with the organisation’s co-founder James Bishop AO, and others. These trials made important contributions to shaping clinical care in AML nationally and internationally. The first trial, AMLM1 started in 1983 and laid the groundwork for AMLM2, a pivotal study led by our founding members Ray Lowenthal and Jim Bishop to compare a treatment regimen that established a new Australian standard of care for AML; thrusting the organisation onto the international stage.