Saturday, August 27, 2016

Dr. Meyer Highlights Need for Dedicated Pediatric Cancer Research at Announcement

OU CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL -- Below is the transcript of remarks by Dr. William Meyer, the Ben Johnson Endowed Chair and Chair of the Jimmy Everest Section of Pediatric Hematology / Oncology at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine, delivered during the announcement of a new partnership that will expand pediatric cancer research efforts in Oklahoma.

"The journey to cure childhood cancer began in Boston with Sidney Farber’s testing of antifols, targeted drugs to deplete leukemia cells of folates, soon after World War II. In September 1947 (now almost 70 years ago) a 2-year old boy with leukemia was the first child to receive one of these new antifols provided by Dr. Farber.  

"Subsequently Farber picked methotrexate as the best of these folate antagonists; and methotrexate is still an agent we use every day as part of curative therapy for every child with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. But despite hints of anti-leukemia activity from several exciting drugs, these children all died. 

"Not satisfied with these very preliminary results, in the early 1950’s Farber began studing other classes of agents, including one called Actinomycin D. Farber was likely disappointed that this drug had no effect on leukemia, but it dramatically shrank several types of childhood solid tumors, including a cancer called Wilms tumor. We treated Rep. Nelson’s daughter, Grace, with Actinomycin D; this old drug is still part of our frontline therapy for this most common childhood kidney cancer.

"Today, from basic science discoveries, translational research efforts, many cooperative group clinical research trials, and the commitment of countless families, the cure rate for childhood ALL approaches 90 percent.  

"The cure rates for many other childhood cancers have also dramatically improved. Today we cure about 84 percent of all children with cancer.

"We have made great strides, and cured many children and adolescents with cancer.  But as many of us know all too well, too many children still do not survive, and many suffer substantial late effects from curative therapy. 

"The only path forward is continuing and expanding our research efforts, and it is important that this TSET initiative is dedicated to pediatric cancer. For cancers in children are not the same diseases that occur in most adults, they are distinctly different and our approach to care is also distinct. 

"Although we don’t know what causes most cancers in children, environmental factors rarely are involved, unlike the impact of tobacco in adults. Many common childhood cancers are caused by specific gene fusions, an etiology seen very infrequently in adult cancers. 

"We have cured many children with relatively nonspecific cytotoxic therapy, killing cancer cells but harming many other normal cells along the way – but few efforts now focus on discovering new cytotoxic drugs.  
Dr. William Meyer

"Adult cancer care relies more and more on precision medicine, with new agents aimed at specific targets on and in cancer cells, but few pediatric cancers share such targets with adult cancers. 

"The FDA approved nine new agents for adult cancers in 2014, 20 in 2015 and 14 already this year, but only three new drugs have been specifically approved to treat children with cancer in the last 20 years. 

"Much work needs to be done, but much of it won’t be done by industry – childhood cancer is too rare with few incentives for the pharmaceutical industry to develop drugs specifically for children with cancer. This is why partnerships like the one we celebrate today are so very important.

"Today’s announcement is a landmark commitment to Oklahoma’s children with cancer and their families, leveraging TSET dollars with support from OUHSC, the Stephenson Cancer Center, and the Children’s Hospital Foundation Pediatric Cancer Endowed Chair program. 

"This partnership will enable us to recruit new scientists committed to further unraveling the mysteries of childhood cancers.  

"Dollars will be committed to translating new basic science discoveries to the bedside. And support for expanding our Children’s Oncology Group efforts will provide access to these cutting edge clinical studies for all of Oklahoma’s children with cancer.  

"We expect this initiative will enhance the Stephenson Cancer Center’s efforts to obtain NCI [National Cancer Institute] Comprehensive Cancer Center Status. This designation then will enhance our ability to recruit and retain the best scientists and clinical investigators dedicated to pediatric cancer. 

"Ultimately the winners are the children and adolescents afflicted with cancer who will benefit from these investigations and through access to cutting edge clinical research studies without leaving the state.

Dr. Meyer with Grace and her primary
oncologist, Dr. Ashley Baker
"For many of us in this room, this is deeply personal. We are forever grateful to the Everest family who built our outstanding outpatient facility and have continued to support our program in so many ways after their son Jimmy died of Ewing sarcoma. The Lewallen family created the CHF Tripp Lewallen Endowed Chair after his battle with leukemia. Representative Nelson has speared-headed the TSET initiative after his daughter was diagnosed with Wilms tumor. And my family lost our 21 month old grandson, Beau, last July to neuroblastoma.

"We must do better, and we can do better through this exciting new partnership.  I sincerely thank the TSET Board, Dr. Sanders, Dr. Mannel, Rep. Nelson, the Everests, the Lewallens, the Bobby Murcer family, Children’s Hospital Foundation, and our families for the opportunity to better serve our children with cancer in Oklahoma."

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