Thanks to pioneering research by MSK and others, today 80 percent of children with cancer will be cured. Our goal is to drive that number higher, and with great urgency, which is why Department of Pediatrics Chair Andrew Kung, MD, PhD, has launched new programs to save the lives of more kids and minimize the long-term effects of cancer treatment.
What was your first objective when you arrived at MSK in September 2016?
I saw an opportunity to take our pediatric care further by recruiting world-class pediatric oncologists and researchers who share my vision for staying ahead of the curve. We’re creating a dynamic and sustainable infrastructure that promotes collaborative patient-and-family-centered care.
Why is now the opportune time for change?
Research and clinical practice have been converging—and effective approaches to today’s most pressing research ideas are built on this paradigm. We have collaborated with groups across MSK to establish the Pediatric Translational Medicine Program (PTMP) for scientists and oncologists to move ideas and observations from the lab to the children who need them.
What changes are in the pipeline?
We’re working on several new approaches. Right now, it takes about two months to sequence a child’s whole genome for research purposes. This is a deep analysis of all 25,000 genes—and it helps investigators pinpoint what’s driving the cancer. Our objective: to cut that time to 14 days so the findings can make an immediate impact on children’s courses of treatment, giving them the best chance of a cure.
Are there an adequate number of clinical trials for children?
No there are not—traditionally the first clinical trials of new drugs do not include children. But certain abnormalities that fuel cancers are shared in both adults and children, and there is overlap in how these diseases respond to drugs. To accelerate access to new drugs for our patients we’re working to convince drug companies to enroll children as young as 12 in early-phase clinical trials that have been traditionally reserved for adults. If the treatment works for adolescents and teens, it will be easier to make the case to include even younger children.
How else will you bring more effective treatments to children?
The new MSK Pediatric Fast-Track Fund will give our team the resources necessary to swiftly, and safely, adapt adult cancer therapies for pediatrics. We will be able to initiate our own clinical trials as soon as solid evidence emerges that an adult therapy could work just as well in children. Fast-Track is designed to grow the arsenal of treatment options for children battling cancer.
We believe that the changes we’re creating will help transform pediatric medicine here and elsewhere. It is very exciting.
How will you pay for these programs?
Less than four percent of governmental funding for cancer research is directed to pediatric cancers. Therefore, we need the support of friends, foundations, families, and individuals who are interested in helping children facing cancer, who understand our sense of urgency, and who want to make an impact. Every dollar counts.
I’ve mentioned two PTMP initiatives here—and there are many others. Our department addresses every aspect of care, including the physical and the psycho-social, and the effects on the child and the child’s family. By working together, we can, and we will, save more lives.