Solutions today for childhood cancer

Are innovations for the treatment of childhood cancer keeping up with those developed for adult cancers? This was the central theme of a multi-stakeholder conference that just took place here in Brussels, which underlined the pressing need for researchers and regulators to work together to accelerate the development of innovative treatments for children with cancer.

Cancer is the highest cause of disease-related death in children in Europe - each year about 3,000 children and adolescents in the region die from this disease. While the challenge remains immense, there is reason for optimism. The paediatric cancer community has acknowledged the urgent need for anticancer therapies and has therefore welcomed the progress achieved by the EU’s Paediatric Regulation, which has made research plans into paediatric applications of cancer medicines more common.

 Yet progress is still slow as approvals of new paediatric cancer treatments remain few and far between. The dilemma here is that the cancers occurring most frequently in adults are not the most common in children. So how do we address the dilemma? Firstly, the EU Paediatric Regulation is up for review in 2017, which is an opportunity to foster a more enabling environment for paediatric drug development. Alongside this, multi-stakeholder groups such as the Paediatric Oncology Platform are urging regulators to think differently about paediatric drug development, allowing for more innovation in study designs so that medicines are evaluated for use in children with no time wasted. Lilly is part of these discussions and also shares experience gained through our paediatric research plans in oncology medicines.

The issues is getting political attention too. Last week, UK MEP Glenis Willmott and the European Society for Paediatric Oncology (SIOPE) together hosted an event to mark the upcoming International Childhood Cancer Day (15 February). Here they discussed how best to develop and enable an improved legislative and regulatory environment for ‘speeding up innovation’ for paediatric cancer medicines.

The battle never ends”, says Dr. Nora Drove, one of Lilly’s European medical directors, who devoted many years of her clinical career as an oncologist in Spain to helping children and their families fight this terrible disease. She now spearheads Lilly’s commitment in Europe to developing innovative and meaningful therapeutic solutions for childhood rare cancers with a high unmet medical need. “The only thing more relentless than cancer is the people who fight it”, she emphasises, offering further hope and determination in the push for accelerated research and better access for children with cancer.