According to a report from ITV, a five-year-old boy from southern England has made the trip across the Bay of Biscay to Barcelona, Spain, where he is receiving an experimental treatment for his neuroblastoma.
Oliver Warner and Neuroblastoma
Oliver Warner would turn 3 in 2016, the same year he was diagnosed with cancer.
Neuroblastoma is a cancer that develops from nerve cells in the body that have not yet fully developed. It is particularly loathsome in no small part because it most often affects children around 5 years or younger, and because certain forms of the cancer can be particularly aggressive – even fatal. In children over 10, neuroblastoma is rare.
Following his initial diagnosis, Oliver seemed to make a brief recovery. In spite of that, and despite continued chemotherapy, the boy’s neuroblastoma relapsed. It was then that his family decided to fly him to Spain, where international trials for an experimental American treatment were underway.
The treatment Oliver is traveling for is a kind of antibody therapy, which is itself a form of immunotherapy – the use of medications to enhance or adjust the body’s immune response. Several types of immunotherapy are being studied for their effectiveness in treating neuroblastoma.
Antibody therapy uses man-made, synthetic versions of immune system proteins to help the body flag and destroy cancer cells. When injected into a patient, they can seek out and latch onto very specific targets (i.e. neuroblastoma cells) where they begin to take effect – whatever the desired effect may be.
Typically, these therapies involve less risk than traditional chemotherapy drugs. In the United States, antibodies have been a routine part of treatment for certain neuroblastoma for some time – dinutuximab being one such synthetic antibody with a proven track record.
Immunotherapy itself is still a relatively young field, however. With more research, it stands to rise in popularity with similarly “more clever, less invasive” bio-pharmaceutical techniques like gene therapy and small-molecule drug development. In patients with particularly pervasive forms of cancer, for example, the traditional treatments of surgery and aggressive chemotherapy become even less viable than usual. Novel treatments, like the one Oliver flew to Spain for, seem to offer better results with fewer side effects.
It has some believing that immunotherapy and antibody therapy represent the future in neuroblastoma treatment. The Warner family, and thousands of others, certainly hope as much.
International trials can provide some families with better treatment options than those currently available in their own country. How else might international cooperation be important in developing drug candidates? Share your thoughts with Patient Worthy!