New immunotherapy agent offers hope for kids with cancer

Pediatric Patient
Pediatric Patient

The Health Science Center is the first study site in the United States to offer a clinical trial evaluating a promising new immunotherapy agent in children and young adults who do not respond well to traditional therapy or whose cancer comes back.

Anne-Marie Langevin, M.D.

The study, led locally by Anne-Marie Langevin, M.D., will evaluate the drug atezolizumab, which has shown great promise in adults. The study eventually will be offered at 50 study sites in Europe and the U.S.

Based on results from several clinical trials in adults, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in February granted Breakthrough Therapy Designation for atezolizumab for treating non-small cell lung cancer in adults. Atezolizumab also has shown good results against a type of bladder cancer called metastatic urothelial carcinoma. The drug is being tested with numerous other types of cancer in adults.

The new clinical trial at the Health Science Center will be offered to children ages 2 to 17 and young adults up to age 30 who have pediatric cancers. The focus will be on solid tumors and two types of lymphomas (Hodgkin lymphoma and Non-Hodgkin lymphoma).

Participants will be evaluated and treated at the South Texas Pediatric Blood Disorders and Cancer Center located at University Hospital, a partnership between the UT Health Science Center and University Health System.

“Even though we’ve had some great advances over the past 40 years in treating cancer with chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, there have been few new treatment options for children and young adults who do not respond well to traditional therapy or whose cancer relapses. This is our sickest group of patients because the standard therapies no longer work,” explained Dr. Langevin, professor of pediatric hematology/oncology in the School of Medicine and holder of the Greehey Distinguished Chair in Pediatric Oncology.

“Atezolizumab uses the body’s own immune system to fight the cancer. The new trial will look at how pediatric tumors and children’s developing bodies react to the new medication,” she said.

Cancer cells express a protein called PD-L1 (programmed death-ligand 1). When circulating white blood cells (T-cells) are deployed to fight cancer, PD-L1 locks onto a receptor called PD-1 (programmed death-1) on the outside of the T-cell. This lockdown, in effect, keeps the T-cell at arm’s length so it cannot enter and destroy the tumor.

Atezolizumab is an antibody that targets PD-L1 and blocks it from joining to the PD-1 receptor. This allows the T-cells to destroy the tumors.

For more information on eligibility and how to participate, contact Virginia Diaz at or 210-562-9149.

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