Cancer research

Until recently, no new drugs to treat children with cancer had been developed for several decades. This was because child cancer is rare and there was no incentive for big drug companies to spend money on producing new drugs specifically for cancer in children.

Cancer researchThis changed in 2007 when the Paediatric Regulation became law in Europe. Its aim was to improve children's health by developing and making available more drugs for youngsters up to the age of 17.

Since then, people like Dr Pam Kearns in Birmingham have been very busy working to bring to market new drug treatments for childhood cancers.

One early-stage trial Dr Kearns and her team completed recently, in summer 2011, is the "CLOUD Trial" – the development of a new combination of two drugs to treat acute myeloid leukaemia (an over-production of immature myeloid white blood cells).

The results were presented to the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago and Dr Kearns hopes they will be published and then taken to a later-stage trial.

"We're also in negotiation to add another new agent to the (drug) combination," she says.

"There are lots of ongoing cancer drug trials for children, and that's very positive. Birmingham is a leading centre, so if there are new drugs available in the world, it's likely we will have them."

Dr Pam Kearns is Deputy Clinical Director (Paediatric Trials) of the Cancer Research UK Clinical Trials Unit at the University of Birmingham. Much of her work is done in conjunction with Birmingham Children's Hospital.

As part of the development of new treatments to treat childhood cancers, Dr Kearns and her team check existing drugs produced for adults to see if and how they work in children.

"We test to see if they work in diseases that are found in children as opposed to adult cancers; you can't assume they will work in a children's type of cancer.

"So we need to check things such as if they're safe for children, what are the doses to give children and do they work. Once we have established these, we go on to do later-stage trials to see if adding these drugs to or substituting for those we have already improves outcomes so that in future they may become part of the standard treatment we provide."

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