Dr. Ching-Hon Pui

WGL 2021-Ching-Hon Pui
Courtesy of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
  • Title
    Chair, Oncology Department
  • Affiliation
    St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

When Pat and Nancy Quinlan’s son Brian was being treated for leukemia at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, there was one person whom they spoke about in reverent tones every evening—the man who was saving their son’s life, Dr. Ching-Hon Pui. Brian Quinlan was 4 years old when he began his grueling three-year treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (also called acute lymphocytic leukemia, or ALL). Today he’s a healthy 21-year-old lifeguard in Florida. His parents, meanwhile, still offer thanks to the globally renowned oncologist, now 69, whose four-decade-plus medical career has improved outcomes for ALL patients perhaps more than any other clinician alive—and yet who remains as approachable to his pediatric patients as a birthday party magician. “You first meet this world-famous guy who seems so serious, so focused, so no-nonsense,” says Pat. “It can be pretty intimidating. Then he gets into an exam room with a 4-year-old child and is transformed: He’s making silly jokes, taking photos, and doing magic tricks.” Pui was born in Hong Kong, received his medical degree in Taiwan, and then immigrated to the U.S. at age 25. He has spent his entire career since then at St. Jude, perfecting the arduous and precise treatment that now cures more than 90% of children diagnosed with ALL. Just as importantly, he has shared that lifesaving knowledge robustly, publishing nine books and more than 1,000 medical papers, book chapters, and monographs. For the past quarter-century, he has also helped lead an international working group that is developing less expensive protocols for resource-limited countries and less toxic treatment for use everywhere. Pui has managed to get the same high cure rates at St. Jude even without using radiation therapy, for instance, which can damage young bodies. And he’s looking for alternatives to the most brutal of chemical agents, many of which can cause medical problems years after treatment. “We have to replace toxic chemotherapy with novel drugs,” Pui tells Fortune. “We want to reduce the suffering. When I see kids suffer, I suffer.”