AURORA — Doctors at Children’s Hospital Colorado hope to launch as many as 25 new clinical trials in the next six months after a recently signed federal law opened the floodgates to test experimental cancer drugs for children.
“The pediatric oncology community is really excited,” said Dr. Lia Gore, the director of Children’s Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders.
While there are hundreds of cancer drugs in development to treat adults, research on pediatric cancer drugs has historically lagged. Gore said essentially only four new drugs have been approved to treat childhood cancer since 1979.
But the RACE for Children Act, signed this month by President Donald Trump, aims to change that by allowing clinical trials in children when there is evidence that a drug being developed for adults could help them, too.
Gore gave the example of an adult drug designated specifically for lung cancer. Previously, the drug couldn’t be tested for children because children so rarely get lung cancer — even though the drug also holds promise for treating a completely different childhood cancer. The new law will allow clinical trials for children based on the “molecular target” of the drug, not the name of the cancer.
The bill was sponsored by Colorado U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, who attended a celebration of the bill’s signing Tuesday at Children’s, along with new FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb. Sen. Cory Gardner was among the bill’s co-sponsors.
Bennet called the bill “a breakthrough for kids fighting cancer,” while Gottlieb expressed equal optimism.
“We have a lot of opportunity ahead of us,” he said.
The celebration highlighted a daylong tour by the two men that also included a meeting at the University of Colorado Hospital and a presentation for a state legislative committee. Those stops both focused on curbing the nation’s opioid epidemic, which Trump recently declared a national emergency.
At the hospital, the men listened as doctors explained new emergency department procedures for reducing opioid prescriptions. For instance, the hospital has modified its digital medical records system so that doctors can more easily check the state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program when writing a prescription. Doctors have also been encouraged to prescribe smaller amounts of opioids at one time.
The result has been a dramatic drop in opioid prescriptions. Three years ago, about 20 percent of emergency room patients left the hospital with an opioid prescription. Today, it’s about 12 percent.
“Our answer,” said Dr. Jason Hoppe, an emergency medicine specialist at the hospital, “has been exposing fewer people.”
Later, Bennet said he is hopeful that federal, state and local governments can work together to address the opioid crisis, and he said he would be watching for recommendations being prepared by the state legislature’s interim committee on opioid addiction. He also said he is optimistic that federal lawmakers will soon put together a bipartisan bill to reform health care in the country, nodding to hearings scheduled next month by the Senate health committee, on which Bennet sits.
“I believe it will happen,” Bennet said of the possibility of a bipartisan bill gaining traction in Congress. “But I don’t know it will happen.”