According to a 2020 estimate from the National Cancer Institute, each year more than 11,000 new pediatric cancer cases are being diagnosed and about 1,190 children are expected to die from the disease. [1]

The most common types of cancer diagnosed in children ages 0 to 14 years are leukemias (account for about 28% of all cancers in children), brain and other central nervous system (CNS) tumors (making up about 26% of childhood cancers), and lymphomas. [2]

The report shows that among children from birth to 14 years,  cancer death rates have declined by 65% from 1970 to 2016. However, cancer remains the leading cause of death from disease among children.

In the majority of cases, doctors may not exactly know what causes these childhood cancers. One of the reasons may be that unlike cancer in adults, childhood cancers are not strongly linked to environmental risk factors because children have generally not been exposed to various cancer-causing substances. They have also not been subjected to adverse lifestyles, including smoking and alcohol abuse, or the effects of aging on the body which may result in cancer in adults.

While some pediatric cancers may be caused by DNA (gene) changes that are passed from parents to their child, only about 5% of pediatric cancers are linked to specific genetic mutations that are inherited from a child’s parents.[1]

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According to the National Cancer Institute, the survival of most childhood cancers has improved in recent decades.  This improvement has been especially dramatic for a few cancers, particularly acute lymphoblastic leukemia, which is the most common childhood cancer. The main reason for these improvements was the introduction of new treatment options introduced in the 1960s and 1970s, raising the 5-year survival rate for children diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at ages 0 to 14 years from 57% in 1975 to 92% in 2012 [4]. This survival rate has also been seen in non-Hodgkin lymphoma.  The 5-year survival rate for children ages 0 to 14 years diagnosed with this disease has also increased dramatically, from 43% in 1975 to 91% in 2012 [4].

However, while the American Cancer Society estimates that up to 84% of children with cancer will survive for five years or longer as a result of current treatments,[2] there is still a need for better pediatric diagnostic and treatment options.

A new approach
“Many of the current diagnostic tests and treatment options for pediatric cancers are based on information derived from methods used in adult patients and may affect kids negatively,” said Paul Crowe, Chief Executive Officer of NuView Life Sciences.

Photo: Jill S. Helmke, D.Ph., N.Ph., is a Certified Nuclear Pharmacist and Doctor of Pharmacy, with over 25 years of pharmacy experience ranging from outpatient pharmacy to clinical research. Photo courtesy: NuView Life Sciences.

“When our clinical trials resume [post-COVID-19], we hope to show that our proprietary NV-VPAC1™ technology actually helps make cancer diagnosis easier, detected earlier, and lead to more precise treatments that are individualized for younger patients.”

The company’s NV-VPAC1 technology consists of a series of peptide analogs that target the vasoactive intestinal peptide receptor type 1 (VPAC1). The VPAC1 receptor becomes overexpressed in certain key malignancies including breast, prostate, colon, bladder, and endometrial cancer.

Invasive procedures
Today’s diagnostic tools often rely on invasive procedures, like surgical biopsies, or scans that use radiation to accurately pinpoint cancers in children. In contrast, NV-VPAC1 is poised to change all that by using a shed cell assay originally developed by Drs. Madhukar Thakur and Leonard Gomella at Thomas Jefferson University.

“We try to protect kids as much as possible, even when we have to test them for suspected cancer. NV-VPAC1 in pediatric use is being geared to positively identify cancer cells, which eliminates the need for more invasive and potentially harmful testing,” explained Jill S. Helmke, D.Ph., N.Ph., is a Certified Nuclear Pharmacist and Doctor of Pharmacy, with over 25 years of pharmacy experience ranging from outpatient pharmacy to clinical research.

“Pediatric cancers are now more treatable than before. At the moment, we are trying to avoid late effects. Earlier detection could lead to less morbidity of treatment in a population that is growing. Second cancers are always a risk and by picking them up early, we can avoid toxicity like we were unable to do in the past,” added Gil Padula, MD, Chief Medical Officer University Hospitals St. John Medical Center, who specializes in Radiation Oncology.

NuView’s proprietary technology could benefits kids tremendously.  For example, if a child has suspected kidney cancer, doctors would only need a voided urine specimen to test for the presence of and positively identify shed cancer cells.

As an in vitro diagnostic test, NV-VPAC1 could be commonly used to help diagnose childhood cancers. Since the test is done outside the body, in vitro pediatric trials would be able to show high sensitivity and specificity, as well as reproducibility in the laboratory. However, many researchers don’t want to pursue pediatric clinical trials until after results using the same medical process have been obtained for adults.

NV-VPAC1 could be the answer patients, parents, and providers are looking for, and clinical trials using NuView’s new technology are expected to resume in the near future.

“We hope to show that NV-VPAC1 is a safer and more precise way to diagnose pediatric cancers compared to current diagnostic methods which are geared more for adults. Once the technology has jumped that hurdle, we’ll move on to exploring how it can be used to deliver effective cancer treatment to children of all ages, with the goal of getting this tool into the hands of pediatric oncologists as soon as possible” Helmke concluded.

[1] Childhood Cancers. National Cancer Institute, 28 Aug. 2020, Online. Last accessed on February 8, 2021. [Article]
[2] Key Statistics for Childhood Cancers. American Cancer Society, 12 Jan. 2021, Online. Last accessed on February 8, 2021. [Article]
[3] Jemal A, Ward EM, Johnson CJ, Cronin KA, Ma J, Ryerson B, Mariotto A, Lake AJ, Wilson R, Sherman RL, Anderson RN, Henley SJ, Kohler BA, Penberthy L, Feuer EJ, Weir HK. Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, 1975-2014, Featuring Survival. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2017 Sep 1;109(9):djx030. doi: 10.1093/jnci/djx030. PMID: 28376154; PMCID: PMC5409140.[Pubmed]
[4] NuView Diagnostics: In Vitro. NuView Life Sciences, 2021. Online. Last accessed on February 8, 2021 [Resource]

Feature image: Young patient with IV line in hand. Photo courtesy: © 2016 – 2020 Fotolia/Adobe. Used with permission.

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