New pediatric cancer drug shows promising results for Austin boy

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — A new cancer treatment for children recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration is just the third pediatric cancer drug OK’d in two decades, and some of the trials happened in Austin. Rex Ryan, 3, participated in the clinical trial for the drug called Unituxin, which treats neuroblastoma — a type of cancer in the nerve cells. It usually appears in children 5 years old and younger.

“It’s devastating, you know. I think it’s every parent’s worst nightmare to be told your child has cancer,” said Rex’s mom, Lesley Ryan.

Rex was diagnosed at 18 months old. After chemotherapy, surgery and radiation, he was part of the clinical trial for Unituxin at Dell Children’s Medical Center and has been cancer-free since October 2014.

“Fortunately, we do have a team here, and they did what was best for him. And it’s proven to be successful so far, and we’re looking forward to it and hoping for a lifetime of health for him,” said Rex’s dad, Casey Ryan.

Thursday, U.S. Congressman Michael McCaul toured the Children’s Blood and Cancer Center at Dell Children’s, where Rex was treated. Unituxin was made possible by a federal pilot program sponsored by McCaul called the Creating Hope Act, which provides incentives to pharmaceutical companies who develop new drugs for children with rare pediatric diseases — such as childhood cancers and sickle cell.

“It’s probably the most rewarding experience I’ve ever had as a member of Congress to see a child that has access to lifesaving medication that this legislation helped produce,” McCaul said Thursday. “I think what happened here at Dell is a miracle that shows lawmakers that it can work and that we need to make this law permanent.”

The Ryans support making the legislation permanent.

“We need more of it,” said Casey Ryan. “Right now, only 4 percent of federal funding goes to pediatric cancer, and that’s not enough. We’re talking about kids.”

The survival rate in children with neuroblastoma is only about 40- to 50 percent. Unitiuxin is designed to significantly reduce the recurrence rate of neuroblastoma.

Over the past two years, four local children were a part of the clinical trials for Unituxin at Dell Children’s Cancer Center, which was involved in the clinical trials of the new drug because they are part of a national organization called Children’s Oncology Group. As a member, the cancer center is able to offer the latest state-of-the-art treatments.

Read more about Rex’s story here.

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