STOP! Children’s Cancer Inc. will donate more than $1 million to the University of Florida College of Medicine to establish the STOP! Children’s Cancer Bonnie R. Freeman Clinical Trials Fund.
The $1.05 million gift will be presented Sunday at the 15th annual STOP! Children’s Cancer “Holiday Traditions: A Musical Celebration” event at the Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. The donation will be used to support pediatric cancer patient clinical trials.
“Our goal is for every child at Shands to receive the best medicine that is known right now — to help them survive whatever they are going through,” said Howard Freeman, a co-founder of STOP! Children’s Cancer. “We will be part of national clinical trials.”
STOP! Children’s Cancer’s gift will fund a clinical trials coordinator to help UF open new trials and ensure the trials are being done in the safest and most effective way, according to William B. Slayton, M.D., a pediatric oncologist and chief of hematology-oncology in the department of pediatrics who specializes in treating and studying high-risk forms of leukemia.
“Clinical trials are the way we get cutting-edge research and its benefits to our patients,” Slayton said. “It will allow us to have more trials open here. Some of the trials are going to be for new drugs you can’t get any other way but through a clinical trial.”
One of the early clinical trials Slayton worked on studied chemotherapies for patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, who have what is known as the Philadelphia chromosome, a mutation only found within leukemia cells.
Before the first trial, which tested a drug named imatinib, patients with the Philadelphia chromosome had poor outcomes with chemotherapy alone and often needed bone marrow transplants. But the new form of therapy, which targets leukemia cells with the Philadelphia chromosome and leaves healthy cells alone, bumped the cure rate for patients receiving only chemotherapy from 20 percent to almost 70 percent.
STOP! Children’s Cancer Inc., a local nonprofit organization committed to the prevention, control and cure of cancer in children, was founded by Bonnie Freeman and her father Howard Freeman in 1981. Bonnie died in 1983 at age 12 of leukemia, but her dream was to help other children with the disease.
Bonnie told her parents her goal was to fight childhood cancer, so other children wouldn’t have to suffer.
“I visualize Bonnie smiling down on all of us and just cheering us on,” said Laurel Freeman, Bonnie’s mother. “It’s been just a true community effort.
Since its founding, STOP! Children’s Cancer has contributed in excess of $3.7 million to fund pediatric cancer research at the UF College of Medicine. All research funding is specifically aimed at preventing, controlling and curing childhood cancer.
“All of the research funding we’ve provided in the past has been seed money for hard-core research, so this is the first time we are moving into translational research, where it’s actually going to be applied to a child,” Laurel Freeman said. “Hopefully, there will be a lot of positive outcomes from this money we are donating. We’re just really excited to see the shift happening.”