Researchers hit milestone on journey to 100% survival rate for childhood leukaemia
November 7, 2014
Researchers have made an important step towards a 100% survival rate for the most common type of childhood cancer, with the latest findings of a trial for children with relapsed acute lymphoblastic leukaemia confirming the superiority of a chemotherapy drug for treating the disease.
In the results of an international clinical trial known as ALLR3, co-authored by one of Children’s Cancer Institute’s senior scientists and published in The Lancet in 2010, it was shown that the chemotherapy drug mitoxantrone was superior to another chemotherapy drug, idarubicin, for treating children with relapsed leukaemia.
“As soon as it was clear that the combination chemotherapy, which included mitoxantrone, improved survival of children with relapsed acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, the trial’s randomisation was stopped and the results were published so that all children could benefit from the better therapy,” says Dr Rosemary Sutton, senior scientist at Children’s Cancer Institute.
“It is very unusual for a trial to be closed early due to an overwhelmingly positive result like this.”
Leukaemic relapse commonly occurs when cancer cells reappear in the bone marrow –however, in a third of cases, the cancer cells grow back in the brain. While the results of the 2010 study clearly showed that mitoxantrone is a better option for relapsed patients in general, it was believed that idarubucin might still be the best treatment option for children whose leukaemia reoccurred in the brain.
The latest results of the ALLR3 trial show specifically that mitoxantrone is better for relapses occurring in the central nervous system and have now been published in PLOS ONE.
Led by Professor Vaskar Saha in the United Kingdom and Dr Tom Revesz in Australia, the clinical trial enrolled patients in 30 children’s hospitals across Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Ireland and The Netherlands. Results have shown that the three-year survival rate increased by 20% in patients with central nervous system relapses when mitoxantrone was used, debunking the theory that idarubucin was more effective for children whose leukaemia reoccurred in the brain.
Children’s Cancer Institute’s strong international partnerships allowed it to collaborate with researchers worldwide in this trial, which marks a significant step towards a 10 out of 10 survival rate for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. Currently, the survival rate for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in children is close to nine out of 10.*
The success of this trial has led to a larger international collaborative trial for children with relapsed acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, involving 20 countries, which has just opened this month in Australia.
*Ching-Hon Pui, Charles G. Mullighan, William E. Evans, Mary V. Relling, Pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia: where are we going and how do we get there?, BloodAug 2012,120(6)1165-1174; DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1182/blood-2012-05-378943
About Children’s Cancer Institute
Originally founded by two fathers of children with cancer in 1976, Children’s Cancer Institute is the only independent medical research institute in Australia wholly dedicated to research into the causes, prevention and cure of childhood cancer. Forty years on, our vision remains unchanged – to save the lives of all children with cancer and to eliminate their suffering. The Institute has grown to now employ more than 220 researchers, operational staff and students, and has established a national and international reputation for scientific excellence.
Our focus is on translational research, and we have an integrated team of laboratory researchers and clinician scientists who work together in partnership to discover new treatments which can be progressed from the lab bench to the beds of children on wards in our hospitals as quickly as possible. These new treatments are specifically targeting childhood cancers, so we can develop safer and more effective drugs and drug combinations that will minimise side-effects and ultimately give children with cancer the best chance of a cure with the highest possible quality of life.
We are currently leading the establishment of the Zero Childhood Cancer national child cancer personalised medicine program for children with the most aggressive cancers, in partnership with the Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network. This program will revolutionise the way treatment decisions are made, with the aim of improving survivorship for those children at highest risk of treatment failure from their disease.