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For Children With Cancer, Hope for New Treatments

A new law requiring pharmaceuticals companies to test cancer drugs on children as well as adults is raising hopes of more therapies.

The health-care industry is preparing for a new law that researchers say will mean more treatments for pediatric cancers, which are the leading cause of death from disease among children.

The legislation, which requires pharmaceuticals companies to test potential cancer drugs on children as well as adults, goes into effect in 2020. Companies already are ramping up and some plan children’s drug trials this year.

“It is an incredibly exciting time,” said Crystal Mackall, a pediatric-cancer researcher and professor of pediatrics at Stanford University School of Medicine. “We have lots of drug companies who want to speak with us suddenly. Before, we went hat in hand, cajoling.”

For years, pharmaceuticals companies balked at trials of children’s cancer drugs, which they viewed as risky and unprofitable, some pediatric-cancer doctors said. While adult cancer drugs can be lucrative, drug companies said kids’ cancer drugs aren’t profitable because of the relatively small market. Of the estimated 1.7 million projected new cases of cancer in the U.S. in 2018, 10,590 involved children age 14 and younger, the American Cancer Society said.

Dr. Mackall’s colleague, Norman Lacayo, a pediatric oncologist at Stanford’s Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, said Europe has been much tougher than America on getting drug makers to test therapies on children.

“We were jealous of Europe, where they forced all companies to have pediatric investigational plans for all drugs and we didn’t have that,” Dr. Lacayo said.

In the U.S., the landscape is changing. This summer at Stanford, Dr. Lacayo will launch a clinical trial of an adult leukemia drug made by Roche on children whose leukemia has relapsed. The trial may help some of his patients, such as 6-year-old Avalynn Wallace, who contracted an aggressive form of leukemia two years ago. Following many chemotherapy rounds, Avalynn kept relapsing and developed infections. She had a stem-cell transplant in September.

“I don’t think there are many options for us,” said her mother, Nicole Wallace. “I think that it is important for drug companies to offer trials for drugs that could cure these horrific diseases children go through.”

Read on: For Children With Cancer, Hope for New Treatments

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