Formerly known as the St. Baldrick’s – Stand Up to Cancer Pediatric Cancer Dream Team, this team is now the St. Baldrick’s EPICC Team (Empowering Pediatric Immunotherapies for Childhood Cancer).Last week I was part of the first annual review of the Stand Up to Cancer – St. Baldrick’s Pediatric Cancer Dream Team.
The review took place at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), and reporting for the Dream Team were co-leaders Dr. John M. Maris, director of the Center for Childhood Cancer Research at CHOP, and Dr. Crystal Mackall, chief of the Pediatric Oncology Branch of the National Cancer Institute (NCI).
The review panel included representatives from Stand Up to Cancer (SU2C), our partner in making this $14.5 million grant; the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR); and of course St. Baldrick’s.
I am excited to report that this Dream Team seems to be making more rapid progress than most. This is partly due to the fact that researchers in childhood cancer are more accustomed to working with colleagues from multiple institutions than are researchers in the adult oncology world.The reviewers agreed that the team is making quick and exciting progress, especially in acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and lymphomas. Progress in acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and solid tumors — sarcomas and neuroblastoma, in particular — is also advancing, but these disorders will clearly be more challenging.
The researchers and reviewers agreed on the importance of learning why some new treatments work for many patients, and why the same treatment does not work for others.
For example, in one research trial targeting a protein on the surface of leukemic cells in kids with ALL that had become resistant to treatment, an incredible 70% of patients are now in lasting remissions. Now the team is working to learn why the therapy did not work for the other 30%, and what can be done to meet those challenges. The science knocked my socks off!
It is not always easy to predict which research will prove most productive in the long run. The team discussed how to best identify when to focus more resources on research that is proving successful, and when to decide to shift gears away from areas that are not yet as successful.
The Dream Team continues to work on combining the studies of genomics and immunotherapy, using new discoveries about the genetic material in our cells to create therapies that use the immune system to fight off cancer.
After a year like this, it is exciting to think of what can be accomplished in the next three years!
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