B.C. children who are battling cancer will have access to an innovative clinical trial treatment thanks to contributions from the Michael Cuccione Foundation and an unexpected boost yesterday from the provincial government.
The specialized treatment — called CAR-T cell therapy — uses a patient’s own immune cells to combat their cancer, leaving other cells untouched. It has “resulted in a dramatic and positive response in killing certain types of cancer cells,” according to the Ministry of Health.
Adults have been able to access the treatment in B.C. but children have been forced to travel to Seattle at significant expense to their families.
The Coquitlam-based Cuccione Foundation aimed to raise $3 million to provide the treatment to kids in B.C. in five years, and started with a $1-million contribution.
Tuesday, the provincial government announced it was providing the remaining $2 million needed to allow the foundation to expand access to the treatment for B.C. children.
The research will be done by the Michael Cuccione Childhood Cancer Research program at BC Children’s Hospital and will be available to children within six to nine months.
“This is revolutionary to be heading in this direction,” Gloria Cuccione, the mother of Michael Cuccione and the foundation’s executive director, told The Tri-City News. “It is so much more targeted, especially for children, when their little bodies are bombarded with chemotherapy, imagine what it does to them.”
The Michael Cuccione Foundation was started in 1997 to raise funds for childhood cancer research. Michael beat his own childhood cancer but died in 2001 at the age of 16 from respiratory failure related to his cancer treatments.
“We’re absolutely thrilled and completely elated this can be offered to our children before the year is out instead of in five years,” Cuccione said. “No child should die of this disease, so the more children we can save the happier we are.”
About 10,000 children across Canada are living with cancer and more than 140 children under the age of 17 in B.C. are diagnosed every year.