Search for a Cure: Fighting Children's Cancer
PRA Health Sciences
PRA Health Sciences

This week is the fourth annual Clinical Trials Awareness Week. This year, its mission is to raise awareness on the importance of clinical trials for infants and children. It's a topic that's close to the heart of our Mark Sorrentino. Next week, he'll be presenting at CureSearch's Catapult Summit, an annual gathering of industry leaders focused on finding better treatments for childhood cancer patients.

We talked with CureSearch to learn more about their work:

Tell us about CureSearch. How did you get started and what is your mission as an organization?

Building on 30 years of experience, CureSearch has played a vital role in finding research breakthroughs for children’s cancer. Since our founding, we’ve been steadfastly committed to ending childhood cancer by helping children receive the treatments they need to survive, while also providing resources for their families.

We were formally incorporated in 1987 as the Orion Medical Sciences Institute; CureSearch’s role was to facilitate medical research to advance treatments for children’s cancer on behalf of the Children’s Cancer Study Group, a research collaborative funded by the National Cancer Institute. The organization was also charged with raising charitable funds for such research. In 1992, the organization’s name was changed to National Childhood Cancer Foundation (NCCF) to more accurately reflect its national scope and focus on children’s cancer.

In January 2010, National Childhood Cancer Foundation adopted a national voluntary health model which included organizing grassroots fundraising events and activities to raise money for children’s cancer research. To better align itself with a grassroots constituency and communicate the organization’s mission through its name, NCCF became CureSearch for Children’s Cancer.

Today, our mission is to end childhood cancer by driving targeted and innovative research with measurable results in an accelerated time frame. To do this, we fund scientific research to challenge the status quo and promote collaboration to push the children’s cancer research field closer to finding cures.

We successfully fund young investigator, translational and clinic-ready research by ensuring the highest-level screening process, demanding milestones are met, and delivering patient-centered results as we drive toward new, less toxic therapies.

We do this on a global scale, because great ideas can come from many parts of the world. We convene international key players from science and academia, pharmaceutical companies, and regulatory agencies to overcome the barriers to delivering new therapies. We drive forward our collective goal of creating a world where children with cancer can lead long and healthy lives.

How do you help patients and their families?

CureSearch has an entire section of our website dedicated to family resources. We have webinars, videos, an app for managing diagnosis, and notably, we're excited about our newest animated video geared for kids on Immunotherapy. We also interview families and share their cancer journey on our blog and website, helping other families and children see that they are not alone in battling this disease.

Lastly, we host community events across the country like Superheroes Unite! walks and Ultimate Hike that rally community members around one common goal – ending children’s cancer. These events serve to bring people together who have been affected by childhood cancer and give them a place to meet (and often make friends) with others who have a shared connection to childhood cancer.

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What are some of the research efforts you support?

CureSearch focuses on driving targeted and innovative research with measureable results in an accelerated time frame. To that end, we advance pediatric cancer research development in at all stages of research. From our Young Investigators (early stage research) to our Acceleration Initiative (translational research) and Catapult Awards (clinic-ready research), our goal is to fund the best research that will lead to less toxic treatments.

All CureSearch supported research is required to report measureable results, milestones and achievements regularly. We evaluate our research rigorously with a focus on the ultimate goal: more cures for more children across more cancer types. You can read more about our progress on our Impact Report.

What recent research/breakthroughs are you most encouraged by when it comes to improving childhood cancer treatment?

We’re excited about the recent breakthrough with Immunotherapy (Car-T). This opens the door to new immunotherapies for other pediatric cancers and shines a light on this revolutionary treatment.

What are some of the challenges/research barriers for childhood cancers?

Despite years of funding, progress in the fight against children’s cancer has been slow. In fact, each year more than 15,000 children in the U.S. alone are diagnosed with cancer, and options are few. To save their child’s life, parents often have to consent to today’s toxic therapies, knowing debilitating side effects are likely to follow their child throughout his or her life–side effects such as infertility, onset of heart disease at an early age, or a secondary, life-threatening cancer.

At CureSearch for Children's Cancer, we’re not here just to fund children’s cancer research; we are here to see that treatments make it to the bedside where can save children. Our research strategy successfully funds young investigator, translational and clinic-ready research by ensuring the highest-level screening process, demanding milestones are met, and delivering patient-centered results as we drive toward new, less toxic therapies. We support researchers through funding, guidance, knowledge, resources, and relationships to ensure the greatest chance of success.

Another major challenge is that groups who should be collaborating aren’t coming together to share knowledge, ideas and expertise. As a part of our strategy, we’re breaking down this barrier and leading the way by bringing together groups that traditionally don’t work together – scientists, pharmaceutical companies, regulatory agencies (like the FDA) – with one mutual end goal: new, safer treatments to kids.

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Is there a theme for this year’s summit?

There is a clear goal for the Catapult Summit – to leave with an action plan for to move our research strategy forward. We want to then implement this long-term strategy and make real change happen.

This year’s Catapult Summit will be more outcome-based than in previous years. Our goal is to have an open dialogue to identify obstacles, understand why they are impeding progress and develop ways we can work with or around them to build an action plan to drive new therapies for children with cancer.

Most importantly, together we will develop the role each participant can play in expediting novel therapies out of the lab and into the clinic and marketplace, where they are urgently needed for the children, parents and families that are counting on us.

Dr. Sorrentino is part of a panel discussion on international collaborations to advance early phase pediatric oncology clinical trials. How can these collaborations help?

These collaborations with address the dire statistics that children with cancer are facing. Every year, 15,800 children in the United States and 35,000 children in Europe are diagnosed with cancer. Worldwide collaboration will help to expand our patient population and enhance efficiency – more diverse patient populations and larger trials will help to accelerate the approval process. Having more voices involved in early stages fosters new ideas, innovative approaches for greater success.

Is there anything that is currently impeding this process? If so, what improvements/recommendations might be made?

The goal of the session is to address this. Internationally-speaking, there isn’t a standard drug approval process and navigating this process is extremely complex. We hope to create a more holistic plan and leverage collaborations with one end goal - to push treatments through to reach children.

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