For some children suffering from cancer participating in a clinical trial can be their only hope of survival. Whilst huge steps forward have been taken, and more children are surviving cancer, still too often we lack suitable treatments for children and teenagers.
In 2007 EU legislation made it compulsory for pharmaceutical companies to research new drugs in children. This is a huge milestone for paediatric medicine, which had been neglected for too long. It means that more drugs are being tested and specially designed for use in children, making treatments safer and more effective.
Pharmaceutical companies can get exempted from these rules, if the drug is unlikely to work in children, or if there are safety concerns. However exemptions are also granted if the disease the medicine is designed to treat does not occur in children. Of course this makes sense in many cases, but when it comes to childhood cancer, it can create problems. Many types of cancer do not occur in children, but that doesn’t mean that a new drug will not be effective in some types of paediatric cancers.
A recent study found that 28 new cancer drugs were licensed between 2007 and 2012, and of these 26 had mechanisms of action relevant for malignancies found in children. However, at the time of writing, 14 of these drugs were given waivers from the requirement to carry out research in children.
Denying children the opportunity to take part in clinical trials with potentially life-saving drugs is just not right. The European Commission is currently reviewing how medicines are exempted from carrying out research in children, and I have submitted a parliamentary question, asking that all cancer drugs that have the potential to fight childhood cancers should be properly tested in children.
Together with my report on clinical trials, which will facilitate cross-border research into these rare childhood cancers, I hope that we can make some big steps forward in fighting childhood cancer at European level.