Working Together to Save Lives

Treating the Most Difficult Childhood Cancers, No Longer Just a Dream

At just five years old, Emily Whitehead received the diagnosis that every parent dreads: cancer. Specifically, she had Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL). At first, her chemotherapy treatments seemed to be working. But when she relapsed for the second time and it became clear that her condition was dire, Emily’s doctors and parents discussed a completely new approach to try to save her life.

The Whiteheads learned there was a new clinical trial that might help Emily, in which the doctors would extract T-cells from Emily’s blood, reengineer the T-cells to specifically attack her cancer, and reinfuse them into her body. They decided to give it a try in the hope of saving her life. Emily was the first pediatric patient in the trial. In just a few weeks, Emily showed a complete response to the therapy, and remains cancer-free today. 

Today, at 10 years old, Emily and her family are thrilled that she is a happy, healthy fifth grader who is enjoying all that childhood has to offer.

Bringing Innovation To Patients More Quickly to Save Lives

The innovation that saved Emily’s life is now the core concept of a research project by a new team of scientists and doctors. They have come together to fight the most difficult to treat pediatric cancers, including blood cancers such as ALL, and solid tumors.  This “Dream Team” was created as a result of the innovative research model pioneered by Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C), which brings together the best and brightest cancer researchers and ensures they have the resources they need to take treatments like the one that saved Emily from the laboratory to the bedside much faster than was typically possible.

The Dream Team researchers are using what they’ve learned from Emily’s case to refine CAR-T immunotherapy treatment for children. In first reports, 30 children with the same type of cancer received the therapy and 90 percent of them responded successfully. As trials continue, more children are receiving the treatment and the Dream Team is learning how to make better CAR-T treatments.

Working Collaboratively, Not Competitively

The SU2C-St. Baldrick’s Dream Team that is further developing Emily’s treatment so it can be used to help more kids is one of 16 Dream Teams created in the SU2C model of research. The goal of every Dream Team? To get new therapies to patients quickly and save more lives.

SU2C’s research model allows scientists at different institutions and across specialties to work collaboratively, rather than competitively, to find new and better ways to treat cancer. SU2C believes this collaborative approach to research can accelerate progress, so that stories like Emily’s become the rule, rather than the exception.

Pediatric cancer is just one of the many cancers being researched by SU2C Dream Teams. The other teams are making great strides in developing pioneering treatments for melanoma, lung, prostate, pancreatic, and breast cancers, to name just a few. Each team is changing the face of cancer research and pushing the dream of ending cancer closer to reality.

CVS Health has joined the efforts to turn more cancer patients into cancer survivors through a three-year, $10 million commitment to Stand Up To Cancer. This includes an annual fall in-store fundraising campaign to benefit the organization.