St. Baldrick’s Childhood Cancer Research Outcomes

by Becky C. Weaver, Chief Mission Officer, St. Baldrick's Foundation
March 15, 2012


Here are a few of the major accomplishments in childhood cancer research that have been supported by the St. Baldrick’s Foundation – through grants made to researchers at hundreds of institutions, and through the more than $33 million granted since 2005 to the Children’s Oncology Group for cooperative research.

St. Baldrick’s donors and volunteers have helped to make the following possible – and the last two are funded completely by the St. Baldrick’s Foundation:
New Cure for Neuroblastoma

    • The first successful immunotherapy for childhood cancer occurred in children with neuroblastoma
    • Most kids have the high-risk form of neuroblastoma, and only 1 in 3 of these kids were cured.
    • By adding this treatment, which harnesses the power of the immune system, almost half of children may be cured.
    • This is the first successful new treatment approach for neuroblastoma, beyond the traditional surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.
    • Neuroblastoma is a cancer of the sympathetic nervous system, a nerve network outside the brain. The average age of diagnosis is two, and it’s rare in children over 10 years old.

Read more about St. Baldrick’s Research Outcome in Neuroblastoma.

Improved cure rate for most common type of childhood cancer

  • This was accomplished by using an old drug (methotrexate) in a new way (high doses).
  • Until now, about 80% of kids with ALL were cured. Now it’s close to 90%.
  • More than 26,000 experts attended the recent annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). The four most important studies of hundreds presented were selected for presentation at the plenary session. Despite the rarity of cancer in childhood compared to adults, all recognized the tremendous accomplishment of this study.
  • The recent dire shortage of methotrexate put the lives of thousands of kids at risk. The crisis has been temporarily averted, thanks to many St. Baldrick’s supporters and others becoming active advocates.
  • “If we can induce remission in children with leukemia in four weeks, I would challenge our colleagues in Washington to enact key legislation, which has languished for the past year, within the next four weeks,” said Dr. Peter Adamson, Chair of the Children’s Oncology Group at an FDA briefing on February 21, 2012.

Raising cure rate from 20% to 70% for rare type of childhood leukemia

  • A rare and very challenging type of leukemia – Philadelphia chromosome positive ALL – had seen very little progress in research in 50 years.
  • Well under 20% of these kids were cured. Now by adding a new drug, Gleevec, more than 70% may be cured.
  • This research had a very rapid timeline from the stage of drug discovery to clinical trials, and rapidly advanced to become the standard of care for this type of childhood cancer.

Accelerating scientific discovery for rare cancers

  • Answers to some key research questions will be available earlier now, and this is possible only because of St. Baldrick’s donations.
  • For childhood cancers that are both difficult to cure and uncommon, many research institutions have not been able to devote the resources necessary to open important clinical trials.
  • The St. Baldrick’s Foundation’s 2012 grant to the Children’s Oncology Group (COG) directly resulted in 130 research institutions opening four of these “high-impact studies.” This is a dramatically successful initiative.
  • Children diagnosed with less common cancers or with cancer-related complications will have more opportunity to be treated on clinical trials, their best hope for a cure.

Training the next generation of childhood cancer researchers

  • Since 2005, the St. Baldrick’s Foundation has funded 61 Fellows.
  • A young doctor who wants to devote his or her career to pediatric oncology research must first complete a research fellowship of three or more years after completing medical school. (These years also delay a young doctor’s ability to earn a normal salary.)
  • Many of today’s experts will be retiring in the next ten years, making it crucial to replenish this pipeline of research experts who will go on to save the lives of generations to come.
  • Because pediatric oncology research is not one of medicine’s most lucrative careers, and it is especially difficult for young researchers to find funding, St. Baldrick’s grants in all categories help to encourage new researchers to enter or stay in this specialty.