Could these new treatments mean children won’t need hand-me-down cancer drugs made for adults?

Cancer is not one disease – there are at least 100 different forms of the disease – and cancer in children is not the same as in adults, often developing through a very different biological pathway.

Yet almost all drugs currently used to treat tumors in children have been developed and tested based on how cancer behaves in adults.

While common tumors that develop in adulthood may be closely related to lifestyle factors (such as lung cancer and smoking), or a genetic predisposition (such as in certain breast cancers), scientists believe that tumors that form in childhood usually arise from abnormalities they occur randomly during development in the womb.

Almost all drugs currently used to treat tumors in children are developed and tested based on how cancer behaves in adults [File photo]

‘Children don’t get cancer of the lung, colon, breast or prostate – instead they are more likely to develop tumors that are very specific to their age group,’ explains Professor Darren Hargrave, a pediatric cancer specialist at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London.

Yet relatively little research has been done into drugs that are tailored to these cancers in children. Instead, children are treated with hand-me-down drugs that have all been developed for cancer in adults.

A good example is neuroblastoma, a cancer that affects about 100 babies and small children a year in England.

It is only rarely found in adults and forms from cells left behind by a baby’s development in the womb, though the reason why these cells mutate into cancer remains a mystery.

Instead, Children Are Treated With Hand-Me-Down Drugs That Have All Been Developed For Cancer In Adults.  Instructions For Donating Are Above

Instead, children are treated with hand-me-down drugs that have all been developed for cancer in adults. Instructions for donating are above

Neuroblastoma has one of the lowest survival rates of all childhood cancers, with nearly a third of patients dying within five years of diagnosis.

Most of the approximately 1,800 children in the UK who develop cancer each year are treated with long-term therapies such as surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

Chemotherapy involves killing cancer cells with toxic drugs that also damage healthy cells in the process, with crippling side effects such as exhaustion, hair loss and severe nausea.

In neuroblastoma, the doses required to kill malignant cells can be so high that they are potentially life-threatening for nearly one in 20 young patients.

And it’s estimated that up to 40 percent of children undergoing chemotherapy or radiotherapy (which uses X-rays or other forms of radiation to destroy cancer cells) have long-term after-effects early in life, including heart damage, infertility, and even an increased risk of cancer. yourself later in life.

Most Of The Uk'S Approximately 1,800 Children Who Develop Cancer Each Year Are Treated With Long-Term Therapies Such As Surgery, Chemotherapy Or Radiotherapy

Most of the UK’s approximately 1,800 children who develop cancer each year are treated with long-term therapies such as surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy

Professor Hargrave added: ‘Many childhood cancer survivors live with the long-term effects of treatments such as surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

“Young children — and the youngest I’ve ever treated was just a day old — are the most vulnerable to this collateral damage. For example, with brain tumors, many survivors suffer from mobility problems, impaired vision, hearing loss and even learning difficulties due to damage caused by treatments.

“So while we are curing children, we are also accumulating health problems for the future because of the treatments we use.”

One of the biggest obstacles to drug research for childhood cancer is the fact that, compared to adult rates, cancer rates are much less common in children. For every child diagnosed, more than 200 adults are told they have some form of tumor.

This has undoubtedly discouraged pharmaceutical companies from exploring child-specific treatments – a process that could cost billions of pounds in drug research and development for relatively little commercial return.

Professor Pamela Kearns, a childhood cancer specialist and head of the Institute of Cancer and Genomic Sciences at the University of Birmingham, says: ‘Because they are rare, there is no incentive for pharmaceutical companies to develop new drugs.

‘As a result, they are less inclined to do the basic research.’

Professor Kearns says she hopes vital funds raised through the Mail’s Fighting To Beat Children’s Cancer campaign, launched today with Cancer Research UK, will solve the problem by supporting research by scientists working at universities to instead to carry out this basic research. Once they find promising drug candidates, they begin working with pharmaceutical companies to refine the science to produce groundbreaking new drugs.

One promising area for development is the use of “targeted” therapies – drugs that target specific genes or proteins that help cancer cells thrive.

This new generation of drugs has transformed a number of adult cancer treatments in recent years.

An example is lung cancer, where a class of drugs called ALK inhibitors has increased survival rates by targeting a protein called ALK, which is involved in tumor development.

Now it seems that children can also benefit from these drugs. A landmark study at Newcastle University in 2021 found that the same genetic mutation that causes some lung cancers in adults is also found in about 14 percent of children with neuroblastoma.

It means young patients identified as having this genetic mutation could be earmarked for treatment with one of five ALK inhibitors already approved for use in cancer in the UK.

“We need to do a lot more research to see how these targeted cancer drugs for adults can help children even more,” says Professor Kearns.

‘The potential benefits are enormous, but it won’t be easy.

“Every penny we get will be greatly appreciated, but we need to raise as much as we can.”

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Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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