UAB’s Division of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology is celebrating a designation that promises to enhance its resources and provide hope to cancer-stricken children throughout the Southeast.

Todd Cooper is UAB’s principal investigator for the Children’s Oncology Group Phase I Consortium — an elite group of hospitals and academic centers working to advance cancer treatment for children.

The group has been selected for membership in the Children’s Oncology Group (COG) Phase I Consortium, an elite group of hospitals and academic centers working to advance cancer treatment for children.
UAB is the only Alabama hospital and one of only two participating institutions in the Southeast in the 21-member consortium.

The most significant advantage to being part of the Phase I Consortium is being able to offer the sickest childhood cancer patients more cutting-edge experimental drugs and therapies, says Todd Cooper, D.O., UAB’s principal investigator for the project and associate professor of Pediatrics.

“These Phase I studies are usually patients that have failed every other therapy,” Cooper says. “These offer our patients a potentially beneficial new agent that is going to enable them to have a better quality of life than conventional chemotherapy. We can also learn about new agents and about the cancers that they have for future kids that have these malignancies.”

Cooper says the majority of the agents used in the Phase I Consortium already have been tested and developed.

“What I’m trying to do is to get new and exciting agents into kids quickly and safely so they can be brought up to more up-front therapies,” he says.

Developing new agents
The designation by the COG touches several UAB departments, including Radiology, Pediatric Pathology and Surgery, to name a few. Cooper will be working closely with other UAB researchers and the Southern Research Institute to help develop new agents.

This will enable Cooper the ability to bring the latest therapies from the laboratory to the bedside through clinical trials. One of the larger goals is to have a complete bench-to-bedside section on developmental therapeutics and pediatrics.

“That’s why this Children’s Oncology Group is so important,” Cooper says. “What I can do for people in the laboratory is bring them that clinical component. I can bring them patient samples of tissues, bone marrow, etc., that they can test and verify that what they are doing in the laboratory will work.”

The new drugs and therapies will be administered under the strictest medical and safety regulations designed by the COG and clinical trial managers at UAB. Patients will be seen at The Children’s Hospital of Alabama and UAB.

Historically, new anti-oncologic agents have been tested and approved in adults long before they are made available to children. The overall cure rate for childhood cancer is about 80 percent. However, for children who do not respond to existing therapy there are few options.

Cooper says his group has treated eight patients through the first eight months of the program, making it one of the top enrolling institutions. He anticipates treating an average of eight to 10 patients per year. Enrollment in the COG Phase I Consortium is designed specifically for patients who have failed other known cancer therapies.

Benefits of enrollment
Cancer clinical trials are conducted in a series of steps called “phases,” with each phase designed to answer certain research questions. This process is essential in bringing cutting-edge treatments to children safely and efficiently. Phase I studies are performed to find the highest dose of a new treatment that can be given safely without serious side-effects.

The COG is a coalition of more than 250 hospitals worldwide that participate and develop clinical trials toward improving cure rates. Member doctors, nurses and researchers offer diagnoses, state-of-the-art treatment and support up to 90 percent of children with cancer in North America.