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Cancer Research UK hails landmark ruling to help more children survive cancer

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by Cancer Research UK | News

26 January 2007

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Children with cancer across Europe will have better access to life saving cancer treatments, thanks to a new European law that comes into force today (Friday). Cancer Research UK believes the change, which means that any new medicine licensed in Europe must be explored for its potential use in children, will increase knowledge about how best to use the full range of anti-cancer drugs in children.

This is the first time specific legislation has been passed in the EU that regulates pharmaceutical research involving children – an area that has often been overlooked by pharmaceutical companies because of the small market, the challenges of undertaking trials in children and the high development costs. Now companies that do conduct trials on new drugs for childhood cancers will be offered incentives in the form of patent extensions.

The ruling was also welcomed by the European consortium for Innovative Therapies for Children with Cancer (ITCC), a body representing experts from the UK, France, Germany, Italy and The Netherlands who coordinate a network of research laboratories and clinical centres across Europe to develop new treatments for children’s cancer.

Dr Bruce Morland, chair of the ITCC clinical programme, and head of the Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group (CCLG), supported by Cancer Research UK, said: “This news is very encouraging for children with cancer across Europe. Although the great majority of children with cancer can successfully be cured, around 25 per cent of children don’t respond well to the current treatment.

“These children will now have earlier access to many more potential treatments. The new law enables new medicines to be tested in pan-European large-scale clinical trials across Europe to find out which treatments are best, and make improvements in childhood cancer survival rates.”

The new law will encourage the design of safe and effective new treatments for children with cancer. At the moment children are given scaled down doses of medication designed for adults – doses that may not have gone through full clinical trials. Scientists will be able to test potential new medicines on experimental models of children’s cancers and doctors will then be able to work with pharmaceutical companies to design appropriate clinical trials in an effort to improve treatments.

Around 2,000 cases of childhood cancer are diagnosed in children under the age of 19 in the UK each year – across the whole of Europe there are about 16,000 new cases. Thankfully, childhood cancers are rare – they account for less than one per cent of the overall number of cancer cases in the UK each year – consequently this means that developing new drugs for this small market is very expensive.

Dr Sally Burtles, director of Cancer Research UK’s drug development office, said: “Childhood cancers are very different from adult tumours so specialist knowledge from groups such as the ITCC and the CCLG is crucial in order for advances to be made. This new law presents a massive boost to drug discovery programmes across Europe and will encourage further collaboration between pharmaceutical companies and childhood cancer experts.

“Cancer Research UK has set an ambitious target to double its drug development activity over the next five years. Finding new treatments for children’s cancers is one of our top priorities. This year we are beginning collaboration with the CCLG to perform joint early phase clinical trials for childhood cancer patients – an initiative that we hope will help even more children survive cancer.”


For media enquiries, please contact Emma Gilgunn-Jones in the press office on 020 7061 8311, or, out of hours, the duty press officer on 07050 264 059.