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New world-first trial for treatment of childhood cancer

By Ben Mitchell, Press Association

Doctors in the UK are to take part in a world-first trial of a new three-part treatment for one of the most common childhood cancers.

The study, involving doctors and cancer scientists in Southampton, America and Germany, will look at boosting the body's immune system with the aim of killing off neuroblastoma.

A University of Southampton spokesman said: "Neuroblastoma affects about 100 children - mostly under the age of five - in the UK every year and develops from immature nerve cells.

"It usually starts as a tumour in the abdomen or chest, however, in many children, it spreads to other places in the body such as the bones and bone marrow.

"In those cases, less than half of patients are cured despite intensive treatment which includes surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and stem cell transplants.

"More recently, a form of immunotherapy known as anti-GD2, which uses antibodies to lock on to cancer cells so the immune system can find, fight and destroy them, has shown the potential to improve survival rates."

The new study, led by Dr Juliet Gray, associate professor of paediatric oncology at the University of Southampton, involves combining mIBG, a special form of targeted radiotherapy which delivers radioactive iodine directly to neuroblastoma cells, with two different antibody therapies for the first time.

The university spokesman added: "The researchers plan to give an initial course of mIBG-targeted radiotherapy followed by the antibody therapies Nivolumab and anti-GD2 over a period of six months.

"Although the initial stages of the treatment process will require children to be in hospital, it is hoped that the therapy will be well tolerated and will eventually be delivered largely on an outpatient basis.

"The trial's objective is to ensure the combination is safe to deliver to children with neuroblastoma in order to develop further studies to compare it with current treatments."

Dr Gray said: "Immunotherapy with anti-GD2 has been shown to increase the number of children with neuroblastoma who stay in remission and has become a standard component of treatment - but sadly a large number of children still relapse and die from their disease.

"Work in the laboratory has shown that combining these types of antibodies with radiotherapy is potentially a very powerful way of eradicating neuroblastoma tumours and these three different therapies appear to work together to generate strong, protective immunity to the tumour."

She added: "This transatlantic trial will be the first time they have been tested together and we are hopeful the combination of treatments will substantially improve the cure rate of children with this form of cancer."

The Phase 1 trial is funded by UK charities Solving Kids' Cancer (Europe), J-A-C-K and US charities Solving Kids' Cancer and Band of Parents.

Stephen Richards, CEO of Solving Kids' Cancer (Europe), said: "Cutting-edge clinical trials offer real hope for children with high-risk neuroblastoma and their families.

"The numbers of children affected are small, so funding collaborative international research is the only way we will improve survival rates and find a cure for this devastating disease."

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