Researchers from MD Anderson, the world’s leading cancer research center, and the Texas Medical Center, which is the largest medical center in the world, are expressing frustration and concern over the palpable lack of new and effective cancer drugs designed to treat various forms of deadly cancer in children. While the worldwide cancer research and treatment industry is one of the most well-funded and prolific — with Texas’ own CPRIT about to resume its $3 billion dollar efforts to fund cancer research and prevention — there have been no new FDA-approved cancer drugs specifically for children in decades.
Dr. Eugenie Kleinerman, head of MD Anderson’s Children’s Cancer Hospital, recently remarked, “I’ve been frustrated for 28 years,” adding that, “There has been one new drug for pediatric cancer that has been approved in the past 20 years in this country.”
Dr. Kleinerman knows firsthand about the frustrations of trying to get FDA approval for new drugs aimed at treating childhood cancers. Her own experimental drug called Mepact, was developed at MD Anderson, and has already been approved in Europe and Mexico, forcing U.S. patients to travel out of the country for treatment . While other nations’ drug agencies have approved Mepact, the FDA is dragging its heels, asking for another study, which would take years and cost another $100 million.
The reason for a dearth in child cancer drugs, Dr. Kleinerman believes, is all about money. With the exception of childhood leukemia, which now boasts an 80% cure rate, thanks to a big push from donors and the pharmaceutical industry, the vast majority of other childhood cancers do not receive as much attention, due to the fact that not many children contract them. “The amount of dollars that go to fund pediatric cancer research is minuscule, 4 percent,” Dr. Kleinerman said.
For as much as cancer research and treatment resources are typically directed at demographic groups most in need, the lack of focus on treating children with cancer comes as a shock to most people, who otherwise perceive a robust effort to fund and manage childhood cancer cures. It is the hope of researchers like Dr. Kleinerman that by speaking out about the issue, more will be done to fund critical research and treatment.