Dealing With Disease
A female doctor and cancer patient are indoors in a hospital room. The doctor is holding the girl's hands to comfort her.

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) said it has more than doubled its funding of research into childhood blood cancers, adding 20 new grants valued at more than $13.8 million to its 2019 portfolio.

The new pediatric grants are part of the LLS Children’s Initiative: Cures and Care for Children, a $50 million initiative designed to fight pediatric cancers through new research funding to advance new therapies and clinical trials; programs to support children and their families; and promotion of policy efforts.

As part of the initiative, LLS said, it is also planning a global precision medicine clinical trial for children with acute leukemia, to be carried out at a global scale. By the summer of 2020, LLS expects to treat the first patient in LLSPedAL, which plans to test multiple targeted therapies simultaneously at up to 200 clinical sites worldwide.

“September is Blood Cancer Awareness Month, and it is also Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, making this an important time to talk about the need to take a bold new approach to helping children with cancer,” Gwen Nichols, MD, LLS chief medical officer, said in a statement.

Among the projects that LLS has agreed to fund:

  • Kasey Leger, MD, Seattle Children’s Hospital, is studying how to prevent children from suffering heart damage due to treatment with chemotherapy.
  • Several new approaches to developing next-generation chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell immunotherapies, by researchers including Terry Fry, MD, University of Colorado; Soheil Meshinchi, MD, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center; and Ryotaro Nakamura, MD, City of Hope.
  • Meshinchi is also developing other approaches to harness the immune system, one based on bi-specific T-cell engagers, and another on antibodies.
  • Jatinder Lamba, MD, University of Florida, is investigating personalized antibody treatments targeting CD33. His research aims to identify biomarkers that will predict which children with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) will respond to agents that target CD33.
  • Robert Albero Gallego, MD, of Columbia University, and Iannis Aifantis, MD, of New York University, plan to tackle T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).
  • Charles Mullighan, MSc, MD, of St. Jude Children’s’ Research Hospital, received funding to develop two novel approaches to treat CRLF2-rearranged ALL. One method will use a targeted therapy to degrade and destroy abnormally active proteins in cancer cells, and the other will use CRISPR gene editing to identify genes that are essential for the growth of CRLF2-rearranged leukemic cells.
  • Davide Rossi, MD, PhD, of the Foundation for the Institute of Oncology Research in Switzerland, is exploring the use of liquid biopsy to improve monitoring of patients early in their treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma. The test is designed to help determine early during therapy if patients who respond well to treatment can receive lower doses of chemotherapy, while those who are more resistant could receive higher doses.

“Children are not little adults. They need better, less toxic treatments designed just for them,” Nichols added. “Our goal is a wholesale shift in the standard of care for pediatric patients, moving from toxic chemotherapies that leave survivors with lifelong health challenges, to effective, safe treatments that target cancer precisely, without harming the rest of the child’s body.”

According to LLS, ALL and AML are the two most common leukemias in children. Five-year survival rates are approximately 90% and 60%, respectively—with approximately 700 children expected to die of leukemias in the United States every year.

The new pediatric cancer grants are part of a larger $44 million comprehensive package of new grants targeting all blood cancers afflicting children and adults—including leukemia, lymphoma, myeloma, and other rare blood cancers. LLS said it is funding more than 292 research projects worldwide, for a total investment of $179 million.

LLS added that it also supports grants that are relevant to adolescent and young adult cancer patients.

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