Newman-Lakka Institute for Personalized Cancer Care at Floating Hospital for Children to accelerate the development of targeted cancer therapies

Jul 09, 2012, 12:12 ET from Tufts Medical Center

$2.5 million gift to establish new treatment center

BOSTON, July  9, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A significant gift to Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center will accelerate doctors' ability to use personalized cancer treatments for children whose cancer is not responding to traditional treatment. This $2.5 million pledge from the Newman-Lakka Cancer Foundation will establish the Newman-Lakka Institute for Personalized Cancer Care at Floating Hospital for Children. The center will be the first ever to create a centralized database to analyze and track the outcomes of these groundbreaking cancer therapies, enabling physicians to share more complete information and offer lifesaving treatment to thousands more children with rare and recurring tumors.

"There are literally thousands of medications available that can treat many of the most recalcitrant tumors," explains Giannoula Lakka Klement, MD, FRCPC, Scientific Director of the Newman-Lakka Institute for Personalized Cancer Care and Pediatric Hematologist/Oncologist at Floating Hospital for Children. "Until now, however, we have not had detailed information about which patients benefitted from molecularly-guided therapy with a specific agent, and which did not. By analyzing outcome data from patients treated with targeted therapies and developing novel mathematical and biostatistical methods, the Newman-Lakka Institute will lead the way in providing therapies for patients with difficult-to-treat tumors."

Over the last decade, researchers have identified many molecular pathways that are unique to cancerous growth and developed new drugs to target them. By using a combination of agents, similar to the "drug cocktail" therapy that became successful in treating HIV, multiple cancer pathways can be inhibited. By inhibiting growth pathways, many previously untreatable tumors can be kept dormant. Although using targeted therapies may not always eliminate cancer, it may be possible to manage it as a chronic condition, because this type of therapy spares most healthy cells in the body leading to far fewer side effects.

Understanding which targeted therapies should be used in specific cancers, identifying how to best combine these therapies with existing agents, and determining the degree of effectiveness of molecularly targeted therapies are all crucial to increasing access to these potentially life-saving treatments. Many of these drugs have already been approved for use in other types of cancer in adults and may be currently available in the market, but insurance companies are often reluctant to cover these often very expensive therapies in children, without additional evidence of their efficacy in pediatric patients. The work at the Newman-Lakka Institute for Personalized Cancer Care will go a long way to provide the necessary evidence.

Charles "CJ" Newman, an investment banker from Phoenix, Ariz., is leading a foundation that has committed to donating $2.5 million to Tufts Medical Center for the creation of the Institute. Newman is a survivor of early-stage renal cell cancer, diagnosed in 2002, and this experience has inspired him to focus his philanthropy in the area of cancer research. While initially targeted toward pediatric patients, the information developed by the Newman-Lakka Institute will have significant implications for treating many rare or recurring tumors in adults as well.

"I know that if I had been diagnosed at a later stage, I would have likely been told that there was little that medicine could do for me," Newman said. "The reality is that today, there are tools to treat late-stage cancers – we simply need to identify which treatments work best for which people. We lose so many patients because they think they have run out of options, but the options are already here and available in personalized care."

"I felt this was the right time to make this gift for launching the Institute because the treatments are there but the information is not widely available," Newman added. "By increasing our knowledge about which medications work best we can make a huge difference in the lives of patients and their families."

Thanks to the support of the foundation, physicians working with Newman-Lakka will be able to identify individual tumor markers and use a rigorous computer-based algorithm for selecting the most appropriate novel treatment. They will also be able to develop and advance biomathematical tools for evaluating outcomes by comparing each patient's predicted response to treatment to the observed response – providing invaluable feedback to help guide treatment decisions for subsequent patients. Through a consortium of participating medical centers, oncologists at major cancer centers around the country will assist in collecting, analyzing and sharing data on these new therapies. Current consortium members in addition to Floating Hospital for Children include MD Anderson Cancer Center, New York University Langone Medical Center, University of Texas, Miami Children's Hospital, Children's National Medical Center, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, University of Minnesota Medical Center and University of Heidelberg, Germany.

"Targeted therapies hold the potential to revolutionize how cancer is treated, curing more patients and offering treatment with less toxic effects," said Johannes Wolff, MD, Chief of the Division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology and Clinical Director of the Newman-Lakka Institute. "Thanks to Mr. Newman's generous gift, Dr. Klement, myself and other physicians and researchers at Floating Hospital for Children and other cancer centers will soon learn much more about which targeted therapies are most effective in different patients."

"Floating Hospital for Children has long been a leader in pediatric research, and we are deeply grateful to Mr. Newman for enabling us to launch the Newman-Lakka Institute for Personalized Cancer Care," said John Schreiber, MD, Chief Administrative Officer of Floating Hospital for Children. "His contribution has the potential to benefit thousands of cancer patients as our researchers learn more about how best to use targeted cancer therapies."

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SOURCE Tufts Medical Center