Seattle Children’s Hospital and Research Foundation today launched a $100 million, multiyear fundraising initiative to support research that scientists believe has the ability to cure some types of childhood cancer in the next 5 to 10 years.
Called “Strong Against Cancer” and backed by Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, the initiative will help fund patient access to clinical trials as well as research on immunotherapy, a breakthrough treatment that reprograms the body’s T cells and reintroduces them into the immune system, where they hunt down and destroy cancer cells.
Developed at the Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research at Seattle Children’s, immunotherapy reduces the need for chemotherapy and radiation, along with the harsh side effects that often accompany those treatments. Immunotherapy has shown tremendous progress in the treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukemia in patients who have relapsed one or more times. Seattle Children’s also recently announced that it has begun recruiting patients for immunotherapy research for neuroblastoma, one of the deadliest forms of childhood cancer.
“We are raising hope for thousands of young people all over the world who are battling cancer,” said Doug Picha, president of Seattle Children’s Hospital and Research Foundation. “We are on the threshold of a cure based on immunotherapy, but we lack the necessary funds to provide this treatment to all of the young cancer patients who need it. Strong Against Cancer will help us get there.”
Traditional cancer treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy are hard on a child’s growing body, and can lead to lifelong developmental and health concerns. Immunotherapy research has shown that a child’s own reprogrammed immune cells can fight and defeat cancer, but government funding for clinical trials is in short supply, and insurance doesn’t fund patient participation.
“Annually, pediatric cancers receive less than 3 percent of the National Cancer Institute budget, which is why it’s so important for all of us to support initiatives like Strong Against Cancer,” Wilson said. “The scientists working on immunotherapy have the treatment and the results to get us to a place where childhood cancer is no worse than a common virus. All that’s needed now are the resources to bring it to every kid who needs it.”
With help from Wilson, Seattle Children’s will create a nationwide network of corporate sponsors and individual donors to fund Strong Against Cancer. The funding will help pediatric cancer patients who qualify for the immunotherapy research trials to be treated at Seattle Children’s Hospital, with the goal of bringing the treatment to hospitals across the country.
So far, seven children who had little to no other treatment options for their cancer have gone into remission after immunotherapy at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Even more positive results are expected this month.
“The results so far have been really remarkable,” said Bruder Stapleton, senior vice president and Chief Academic Officer at Seattle Children’s. “Our success rate with immunotherapy has been very high – more than 80 percent of those treated have achieved remission.”
A year ago, 20-year-old Milton Wright III was facing his third relapse of acute lymphoblastic leukemia – a virtual death sentence, as Wright’s body had become resistant to chemotherapy. “I was waiting for them to give me the ‘six months to live’ talk,” Wright said.
Instead, Wright was enrolled in the immunotherapy research trial, and it worked. Wright is now 21 and living cancer-free.
“I know I am lucky to be here, and I will never forget those who didn’t survive before me,” Wright said. “I’m living for them now, and I’m going to make the best of it.”
Strong Against Cancer is a nationwide initiative inspired by the immunotherapy discoveries at the Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research at Seattle Children’s Research Institute. This initiative is a team effort on the part of hospitals, researchers, doctors, nurses, corporations, organizations and individuals. The captain of the team is Russell Wilson, quarterback of the Super Bowl champions the Seattle Seahawks, who learned about immunotherapy during his regular visits to Seattle Children’s Hospital. Clinical trials for this therapy are now underway and are producing exceptional results in eliminating childhood leukemia. The aim of the Strong Against Cancer team is to create a national philanthropic initiative with worldwide implications for curing childhood cancers through these immunotherapy treatments.