CHOP’s Cancer Expert to Lead "Dream Team"

John M. Maris, MD, director of The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's Center for Childhood Cancer Research has been chosen to lead the first-ever pediatric "Dream Team" solely focused on creating new treatments for the most challenging childhood cancers. Stand Up to Cancer (SU2C) and the St. Baldrick's Foundation, along with the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), SU2C's scientific partner, recently announced the new Dream Team at the AACR Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.

The pediatric Dream Team will have $14.5 million in funding over 4 years, provided by SUC2 and St. Baldrick's. Crystal L. Mackall, MD, chief of the Pediatric Oncology Branch of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), is the co-leader of the Dream Team.

The title of the research project, "Immunogenomics to Create New Therapies for High-Risk Childhood Cancers," reflects the melding of two powerful disciplines that have historically functioned independently: immunotherapeutics and genomics. The goal of the project is to rapidly translate promising basic research into transformative, targeted treatments that will improve cure rates in children's cancer.

The new pediatric Dream Team addresses a crucial need in treating children's cancers. After dramatic progress throughout the last half of the 20th century, cure rates for pediatric cancers plateaued in the 1990s. In addition, current therapies for childhood cancers often have severe side effects that reduce quality of life for survivors who enter adulthood.

Stephan A. Grupp, MD, PhD, and Tom Curran, PhD, will lead the CHOP-based research programs. In collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania's Carl H. June, MD, Dr. Grupp developed the first highly effective childhood cancer immunotherapy.

The Dream Team will focus on the four most deadly pediatric cancers: malignant brain tumors, high-risk leukemias, neuroblastomas, and sarcomas.

Recent research in genomics, said Dr. Maris, has shown that pediatric cancers are fundamentally different from adult cancers. Children's cancers are less likely to arise due to recurring mutations that can be countered with small molecule drugs. Instead, this Dream Team will exploit the unique feature of molecules on cell surfaces of childhood cancer cells that are not present on normal cells, and thus offer targets for treatments employing bioengineered agents working through the immune system.