Curative chemotherapy for cancer was first realized in children and survival rates for many childhood cancers improved dramatically through the last decades of the 20th century. However, those cure rates have plateaued since the 1990s, and for some childhood cancers, cure rates remain below 20 percent. Further, current therapies often lead to severe side effects that reduce the quality of life for patients as they grow into adulthood. New classes of therapeutics are needed if the survival of children with cancer is to be improved and the financial, emotional and life-altering costs of curative therapies are to be decreased.
Genomics and immunotherapeutics are two of the most promising areas in childhood cancer research. Recent advances in cancer genomics have led to new understanding of the genetic basis of some of the most aggressive childhood cancers, but they have not yet revolutionized treatment. In parallel, efforts to harness the body’s own immune system to eradicate cancer have yielded stunning results in some patients, but these treatments remain limited in application, available only for a few cancer types and accessible at only a small number of institutions.
The Dream Team is a collaboration between pediatric cancer researchers in the largely disparate disciplines of cancer genomics and immunotherapeutics. The team will focus on developing new, targeted immunotherapeutics for the most difficult-to-cure childhood cancers.
First, the team will create a multi-institutional computing infrastructure to perform new analyses on childhood cancer genomes as well as normal childhood tissues to determine which molecules are on the surface of cancer cells but not normal cells. Discoveries will be validated using newly created, powerful, research tools known as tissue microarrays from cancerous and normal tissue from children. The team will then create new immunotherapeutic drugs and approaches based on these discoveries in a collaborative manner with the Frederick National Laboratory and industry partners, and perform the necessary laboratory studies to determine if they are promising for testing in children. In parallel, the team will develop an Immunogenomics Pediatric Cancer Dream Team clinical trials consortium to test the new immunotherapeutics in children. A major goal of the team is to create a mechanism by which these highly specialized therapies can be exported to all Children’s Hospitals for future testing and clinical application, with the hope that these will be transformative new therapies.
Poul Sorensen, MD, PhD, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
Donald W. Parsons, MD, PhD, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX
Michael D. Taylor, MD, PhD, The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Canada
Michael C. Jensen, MD, Seattle Children’s Hospital, Seattle, WA
Paul Sondel, MD, PhD, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI