At the forefront of exciting new research to find better treatment for childhood cancer

The principal aim of the Doernbecher Children’s Hospital Development Therapeutics program is to evaluate novel agents for the treatment of pediatric cancer through early phase clinical trials. We conduct Phase I and Phase II trials of potentially promising new drugs for the treatment of all types of childhood cancer.

Doernbecher is one of 21 select institutions in North America who comprise the NCI-funded Children’s Oncology Group Phase I Consortium. Through our participation in COG early phase trials, industry-sponsored trials and investigator-initiated studies, we hope to find better therapies for the treatment of childhood cancer.

The Doernbecher Developmental Therapeutics program is at the forefront of exciting new research to find better treatment for childhood cancer. The benefit of the program to children in Oregon and Southwest Washington is that it provides access to some of the newest drugs that are being tested for children with cancer.

We have made great strides toward curing childhood cancer in the past two to three decades, such that almost 80 percent of children diagnosed with cancer will be cured.  However, the current standard treatment for most childhood cancer involves intensive chemotherapy along with surgery and radiation therapy when necessary.

Chemotherapy comes with significant short-term side effects and carries the risk of causing a myriad of long-term adverse effects that can impact the health of survivors into adulthood. In addition, we have reached the limits of the intensity of chemotherapy that can safely given to patients. Therefore, in order to reduce the burden of therapy for the approximately 80 percent of children who will survive cancer and to provide a chance for cure for the remaining 20 percent, novel therapies are needed.

The majority of new drugs tested in the Doernbecher Developmental Therapeutics program are considered “targeted therapy.” These drugs, often oral medications that can be taken at home, are designed to attack some abnormality that is present or amplified in the cancer cells relative to normal cells. Oregon Health & Science University has been one of the pioneers of using this strategy and is credited with developing the first such “targeted” drug called Gleevec.

As the head of the Developmental Therapeutics program at Doernbecher, I have had a leadership role in designing and conducting some national multi-institutional studies of novel agents for childhood cancer through the Children’s Oncology Group (COG). I am currently chair of the first study to incorporate a targeted agent into a chemotherapy regimen for childhood sarcoma. In this study, the novel agent is a monoclonal antibody to the insulin-like growth factor receptor, which may have some benefit against a type of cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma. In addition to work with COG, the Development Therapeutics program works closely with the Pediatric Cancer Biology program in the Papé Family Pediatric Research Institute at OHSU Doernbecher to bring scientific discovers in the laboratory to the bedside where patients may benefit.

Suman Malempati, M.D.
Head, Developmental Therapeutics Program
Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Division of Hematology/Oncology
OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital