young girls cancer patient

Hope for the sickest patients

girl in hospitalA clinical trial of a new immunotherapy agent for children and young adults who don’t respond well to traditional therapy or whose cancer returns is being offered at the Health Science Center—the first study site in the U.S. to offer the trial.

The study, led locally by Anne-Marie Langevin, M.D., evaluates the drug atezolizumab, which has shown promising results in adults. It is being offered to children ages 2 to 17 and young adults up to age 30 who have pediatric cancers. The focus is on solid tumors and two types of lymphomas, Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

In May, the university joined the Pediatric Oncology Experimental Therapeutics Investigators’ Consortium (POETIC), a group of 11 academic medical centers in North America whose pediatric oncology studies focus on the biologic basis for anti-cancer therapy, and investigate new agents and novel combinations of therapies early in clinical development.

“We joined POETIC to offer children the newest therapies that are not available yet at other centers,” said Steven D. Weitman, M.D., Ph.D., principal investigator. “If we were not involved in this, our patients would have to wait years before these treatments would be available commercially to the public.”

Two more studies are expected to open by the end of summer, said Virginia Diaz, lead research associate for the POETIC study.

The first trial of the drug atezolizumab has already proved promising. Based on results from several clinical trials in adults, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in February granted Breakthrough Therapy Designation for atezolizumab for treating non-small cell lung cancer in adults. Atezolizumab also has shown good results against a type of bladder cancer called metastatic urothelial carcinoma. The drug is being tested with numerous other types of cancer in adults.

“Even though we’ve had some great advances over the past 40 years in treating cancer with chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, there have been few new treatment options for children and young adults who do not respond well to traditional therapy or whose cancer relapses. This is our sickest group of patients because the standard therapies no longer work,” said Dr. Langevin, professor of pediatric hematology/oncology.

“Atezolizumab uses the body’s own immune system to fight the cancer. The new trial will look at how pediatric tumors and children’s developing bodies react to the new medication,” she said.

The study eventually will be offered at 50 study sites in Europe and the U.S. For a list of clinical trials offered by
Health Science Center researchers, go to

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