T-cell immunotherapy continues to take center stage as one of the most promising new cancer therapies of our time. What once sounded like a dream – reprogramming a person’s own immune system to fight cancer – is remarkably becoming a reality. What’s more; doctors and researchers in our own backyard are leading the way in developing this therapy for children and young adults around the world.
From covering the opening of the first T-cell immunotherapy trial when I was an anchor at KING 5 TV, to now seeing this therapy being tested in seven open clinical trials at Seattle Children’s and applied to a variety of cancers, I’ve been amazed to watch the enormous strides researchers have made in the field over a few short years.
The results also speak for themselves – 93% of patients with relapsed or refractory acute lymphoblastic leukemia in Seattle Children’s phase 1 PLAT-02 trial achieved complete initial remission. About 50% were still in remission one year after therapy. Some patients, who were otherwise unlikely to survive with traditional therapies, are still in remission nearly five years after receiving the experimental treatment. This is encouraging news, especially since leukemias are the most common childhood cancers.
And on Oct. 12, I will witness yet another major milestone – Seattle Children’s will bring their groundbreaking therapies to a global stage.
Seattle Children’s will convene in London with several other children’s hospitals from around the world to share and discuss the latest innovations in pediatric health, including the promise of cancer immunotherapy, with the aim of further moving the needle on the latest advancements.
But no one has more hope for this therapy than the children and teens who may one day rely on it, or those who understand the harsh reality of current treatments; children like Avery Berg.
Avery, now 13, was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor at the age of 10. Avery endured six weeks of cranial and spinal radiation, five brain surgeries, and six months of high-dose chemotherapy. Her mother, Kristie, spent more than 100 nights in Seattle Children’s by her bedside. Avery has thankfully been cancer-free for more than a year, but her mom Kristie says the treatment her daughter went through was very difficult and left her with lifelong side effects.
In fact, three out of five cancer survivors who receive traditional chemotherapy and radiation develop serious late side effects, which include secondary cancers, infertility, heart failure and kidney issues.
In the past few months, Seattle Children’s has opened two new T-cell immunotherapy trials, BrainChild-01 and STRIvE-01, which target solid tumors of the brain and spine, as well as non-central nervous system tumors like sarcomas, kidney tumors and neuroblastoma.
Kristie says that immunotherapy offers hope that children can become cancer-free without having to endure such toxic, harsh therapies.
And Kristie is not alone. She is one of more than 10,270 parents in the U.S. who will get the crushing news “your child has cancer” this year. Cancer remains the leading cause of death from disease among children, and about 1,190 children are expected to die from the disease this year.
Funding is essential to continue to accelerate pediatric cancer research and clinical trials in areas like immunotherapy. Despite this, pediatric cancers receive less than 4% of the National Cancer Institute budget.
For that reason, Seattle Children’s relies greatly on a generous community of donors who support their quest to improve cancer treatment for children worldwide, many of which have joined the national philanthropic initiative called Strong Against Cancer aimed at advancing immunotherapy and cancer research.
This type of support is key in making it possible for Seattle Children’s to now have the largest pipeline of T-cell immunotherapy trials open for children and young adults. It’s also why Seattle Children’s was able to recently enroll its 200th immunotherapy patient. It’s the fuel that ensures these advancements can move forward.
As Seattle Children’s continues to utilize immunotherapy to tackle a variety of cancers, we get closer to treatment that takes weeks instead of years. We get closer to a treatment with minimal side effects, and most importantly, we get closer to a cure. Pleasein accelerating our ability to provide hope to every child with cancer.
Jean Enersen, an anchor at KING 5 TV for more than 40 years, serves on the board of Seattle Children’s Hospital and Research Foundation and is the co-chair of It Starts With Yes: The Campaign for Seattle Children’s.