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Team makes breakthrough in therapy for childhood cancer

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- A clinical trial developed by a Taiwan research team has offered a glimmer of hope for patients of neuroblastoma, a malignant cancer of early childhood, academic sources reported yesterday.

The research team at the Academia Sinica has proved that a combination of anti-cancermonoclonal antibodies (mAbs) with cytokines (natural hormones that help the immune system) is an effective anti-cancer therapy, according to a press statement released by Taiwan's research institute.

The new immunotherapy treatment pioneered by the research team headed by Alice Yu, deputy director of Academia Sinica's Genomics Research Center, is the first study in the world that confirms that immunotherapy is effective in improving cure rates for this childhood cancer, the statement said.

Yu, a pediatrician, has been working on the therapy for more than 20 years. She completed the Phase I and Phase II trials of this antibody at the University of California in San Diego.

The latest phase III trial was sponsored by the U.S.-based Children's Oncology Group (COG), a cancer research organization, and the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health in the United States. The latest results included children with neuroblastoma from many parts of the world.

Neuroblastoma is a malignant cancer of early childhood in which the cancer cells arise from the nerve cells in the neck, chest or abdomen.

It is the most common cancer diagnosed in the first year of life and is responsible for 15 percent of cancer-related deaths in children.

The Phase III study showed that children with high risk neuroblastoma receiving the new antibody-based immunotherapy (chimeric anti-GD2 antibody ch14.18) have a 20 percent better chance of living free of cancer, a significantly improved cure rate.

So far, Yu said, all U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA) approved therapeutic anti-cancer mAbs or vaccines are directed against protein or glycoprotein antigens. "The Phase III clinical trial is the first mAb targeting a glycolipid that has been shown to be effective," Yu said."

More importantly, she added, this is the first study that proves that immunotherapy is effective in improving cure rates for this childhood cancer, and her team is now focusing on making sure immunotherapy can be available to all children with this disease and on improving results in the future.

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