"Our team’s work has hope written all over it”

21 September 2022
Image of Sara Wakeling and her daughter, Alice

Advocacy plays a major role in Cancer Grand Challenges. The team taking on our Solid Tumours in Children challenge includes six advocates, representing the voice of children and families affected by solid cancers and helping to shape the team’s research.  

For Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, team advocate Sara Wakeling, CEO and co-founder of Alice’s Arc, discusses the need to drive progress for children with solid cancers.  

Over the past few decades, major advances have been made in the treatment of children with blood cancers. Yet children with some solid tumours, such as sarcomas or brain tumours, often face dismal survival, particularly those with metastatic presentation and at the point of relapse. These poor survival statistics have remained the same for decades. Progress has stalled. Treatment protocols can be old, generic, intensive, and punishing.  

This is a recognised area of unmet need. New treatments are desperately needed to propel things forward.    

It is fantastic that Cancer Grand Challenges have identified solid tumours in children as one of their challenges. In June 2022, our Cancer Grand Challenges team, NexTGen, was selected for funding to take this challenge on. Our team’s vision is that engineered T-cell therapy for childhood cancers will become routine within a decade.  

NexTGen represents crucial and overdue work. It has hope written all over. It promises to transform the way aggressive solid tumours (rhabdomyosarcoma, Ewings sarcoma and brain tumours such as medulloblastoma) are treated with less toxic side-effects and giving the children a real chance at growing up and realising their potential. Given this pressing need, research with clinical translation is essential to improve prognosis, and three clinical trials are set to launch early in our team’s programme. This will enable findings in the lab to be tested in the clinical setting early on which could yield unexpected results that can be fed back into the work in the lab. I am so proud to be a part of this exceptional team of scientists, medics and advocates who want to change the story for those diagnosed.   

I feel an enormous passion and responsibility representing the voices of many parents and patients who have been impacted by brutal solid tumours. I witnessed my daughter’s journey with rhabdomyosarcoma for over 4.5 years before she passed in October 2019. My daughter wanted a new treatment that could make her better once and for all. To be part of a team that can drive progress towards this goal is a form of therapy and brings me some comfort.  

Hopefully, one day, a family who have no idea that they will face a solid tumour diagnosis, will be suitable for this innovative treatment devised by our Cancer Grand Challenges team, and their chances of a safe cure will be far better than they are today. 

The Cancer Grand Challenges NexTGen team is supported by Cancer Research UK, the National Cancer Institute and The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research. Find out more