Concerted efforts give child cancer patients new hope

By ZHOU WENTING in Shanghai | China Daily | Updated: 2022-01-18

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Novel therapies

The lack of effective drugs for young tumor patients, especially those with relapsed and refractory cancer, is another difficult problem.

Li said, "When experts treating tumors in adults gather to discuss whether it is excessive to have at least 100 research and development projects for PD-1 inhibitors-a potential cancer therapy-underway in China, we envy them greatly, as the number of such projects in the pediatric field is zero."

Experts said financial reasons are to blame for this, along with difficulty in recruiting child patients for clinical trials.

"We hope the government will create more momentum to drive research and development institutions and also companies to invest in this area so that innovation can be sustained," Li said.

For adults, finding an appropriate drug solution from existing medicines is another solution, Li said, adding that China has a larger patient community than other countries, and he hopes that more clinical trials can be promoted domestically to meet patients' needs.

Liu Yan, vice-president of Chinese biotech enterprise BeiGene, said that to date, the company has had one innovative therapy for neuroblastoma-cancer of immature nerve cells-approved in the China market. Another, for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, is awaiting approval.

"Before the therapy for neuroblastoma obtained market approval in China in August, 35 children had received it since the previous November in the Hainan Boao Lecheng International Medical Tourism Pilot Zone in Hainan province, as part of our efforts to improve drug accessibility as much as possible," she said.

The company said that improved affordability through various means, including collaboration with philanthropic institutions, is another key consideration.

Liu said, "We're also delighted to see that in past years many cities have introduced commercial supplementary medical insurance guided by their medical insurance authorities, and that innovative drugs to treat major diseases, including cancers, have been included on the reimbursement list."

Regarding a therapy to treat lymphoma in adults, she said the company and experts are considering the possibility of carrying out clinical trials for this on children.

Wang, the doctor from Hangzhou, said that in many cases the clinical values of a therapy are based on the number of patients.

"But I don't think such an appraisal works with drugs for children. When we save a child, we salvage an entire family's hopes for the future," he said.

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