Time for Change

There have been many incredible advances in the treatment of adult cancers in the past 10 years, but childhood cancer is losing out for many reasons, including the opportunity for industry to apply for waivers in the drug development process. Investigating new agents in children and adolescents is particularly difficult as their numbers are few, studies are costly and outcomes are not guaranteed. This leads to long delays for companies who answer to shareholders, and so sadly a waiver to avoid having to test efficacy in children is the attractive option for many. The bottom line is that children are often sidestepped in the drug development process because of financial challenges.

It is a well-known fact that most children diagnosed with cancer are treated with chemotherapy drugs which are over 30 years old. If we continue to do this, then current survival rates for the most resistant cancers are unlikely to change, the prospect for cure at relapse remains low, and the toxicities (both acute and long-term) will remain unchanged. By ignoring these issues, we are failing our children. Cancer is the number one cause for death by disease in children and adolescents, but in the adult world it is no longer recognised as the automatic death sentence that it once was. Childhood cancer is genetically a much simpler disease, with lower molecular mutation rates. Children and adolescents also have substantially less co-morbidities given that they have exposed their bodies to fewer toxins in their short lives. All these elements point towards the fact that childhood cancer should be addressed in a much more positive and productive way, which is likely to lead to much greater curative rates than are currently being achieved.

Developing new drugs specifically for children will address many of these issues, but another key element to consider is prioritisation. Although 35,000 children and adolescents are diagnosed with cancer each year in Europe, when this number is attributed to individual diseases and disease sub-categories, the numbers of children and young people in each classification are few. This makes prioritising drug development another key issue, as only the most promising compounds and technologies should be brought to the fore for testing when it comes to these very small populations. Children are precious, and should be treated as such in every regard, including childhood cancer research.

Many parents and charity advocates are extremely knowledgeable on this topic, and have spent years campaigning to bring these issues to light. Unite2Cure is uniting these highly informed people and groups to gather momentum to bring one voice to the European Commission in asking for change to regulation to address these core issues. We recognise that difficulties exist for other stakeholders, but we believe many of these can be overcome by making small but strategic changes to the European Paediatric Medicines Regulation.

Parents who have lost their children to cancer, parents who live in fear of relapse and nurse their children through long term side effects, and charities supporting these desperate families all recognise the need for change and see an opportunity for it to happen. Academics understand the limitations of the current regulation and research landscape. Paediatric oncologists state that they don’t want to be the generation who simply administered drugs to maintain this current curative plateau. Surely those highly skilled, highly paid individuals working within drug development grasp these issues and are keen to change the future of many children diagnosed with this devastating disease?

If only it was considered a good return on investment, then this might be the case.

Show your support by signing our petition.

Leona Knox, Unite2Cure

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