Congressional Caucus Hosts Childhood Cancer Summit
The Congressional Childhood Cancer Caucus held its third annual summit on September 20. For the first time, invited representatives from NCI and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) spoke about federal efforts to support childhood cancer research. The event, which takes place each September in observance of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, was hosted by Representatives Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), co-chairs of the caucus.
Both Van Hollen and McCaul emphasized the caucus' bipartisan support for childhood cancer research and cited recent laws enacted to advance pediatric medical research and encourage drug development for pediatric cancers in particular. These laws—the Best Pharmaceuticals for Children Act (BPCA), the Pediatric Research Equity Act (PREA), and the Creating Hope Act—were part of the FDA Safety and Innovation Act, a bill to reauthorize funding of the FDA, which President Obama signed into law in July.
Dr. Javed Khan, a senior investigator from NCI's Pediatric Oncology Branch (POB), spoke with members of Congress and their staff members, as well as cancer survivors and others from the childhood cancer advocacy community, about the challenges and opportunities in the pediatric oncology field.
Dr. Khan described his cancer genomics research, including his work with NCI's Therapeutically Applicable Research to Generate Effective Treatments (TARGET) initiative, an effort to identify and validate therapeutic targets for several childhood cancers. He leads a research team in analyzing the genomes of pediatric solid tumors to identify molecular targets for neuroblastoma and rhabdomyosarcoma.
He also shared examples of other research under way at NCI, efforts by the NCI-supported Children's Oncology Group (COG), and partnerships between the intramural and extramural research communities and industry.
Research on other cancers can lead to progress in pediatric cancer research, Dr. Khan stressed. He offered a number of examples, including a recent COG trial of the drug crizotinib (Xalkori), originally developed to treat non-small cell lung cancer with genetic alterations in the ALK gene. NCI-supported researchers recently reported promising results from a phase I clinical trial of crizotinib to treat children with neuroblastoma, anaplastic large cell lymphoma, and a rare type of sarcoma, called inflammatory myofibroblastic tumor. All three diseases have been associated with abnormalities in the ALK gene.
Dr. Khan was joined by Dr. Gregory Reaman, associate director for Oncology Sciences at the FDA, a pediatric oncologist and former chair of COG. Dr. Reaman discussed the FDA's implementation of BPCA, PREA, and the Creating Hope Act. He mentioned that the FDA will host a public meeting focused on stakeholder engagement and that the agency hopes to schedule a second day to address pediatric oncology.
Other speakers at the summit included Brianna Commerford, a high school student from New Jersey and a 6-year survivor of stage IV Hodgkin lymphoma. Commerford worked closely with members of the caucus and the childhood cancer advocacy community to build support for the Creating Hope Act.
Dr. Khan's participation in the summit followed a visit by congressional staff to NCI in early September. Staff from several congressional offices, including those of McCaul, Van Hollen, and Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Pat Roberts (R-KS), met with Dr. Crystal Mackall, chief of the POB; Dr. Alan Wayne, head of the POB Hematologic Diseases Section; and Dr. Malcolm Smith, associate branch chief for Pediatric Oncology in NCI's Division of Cancer Treatment and Diagnosis.
For more information about NCI's legislative activities, visit the NCI Office of Government and Congressional Relations website.
Further reading: "Genome Study Points to Treatments for High-Risk Form of Childhood Leukemia"
—Holly Aprea Gibbons