• Article
  • November 28, 2016

For this Children's Hospital CEO, the Fight Against Pediatric Cancer is Personal

Children's hospitals join an initiative to develop the next-generation standards for treating pediatric cancer.

By Robert L. Meyer

Cancer. No matter how much we research the disease—no matter how much progress we've made in treating it—the mere mention of the word creates a sense of helplessness. Those of us working in the medical field aren't exempt from this fear, but for parents, the fear can be all consuming. As a father and grandfather, I know first-hand there is nothing more powerful than the love of a parent. Likewise, there is nothing as scary, as truly paralyzing, as a childhood cancer diagnosis.

Though medical advances have increased survival rates dramatically in the last few decades, cancer continues to take more children than AIDS, asthma, diabetes, cystic fibrosis and congenital anomalies combined. Cure rates for some pediatric cancers remain below 50 percent. Yet only 4 percent of federal cancer funding is solely dedicated to finding cures for pediatric cancers. Clearly, we must fight harder for our children and their families.

The fight is especially personal for me. My beloved wife, Diane, is a childhood cancer survivor. It was an experience that affected her profoundly and altered the course of her life. Hers is a happy story of hope and survivorship, but she is one of the lucky ones. She shares my commitment to rid the world of this awful disease.

In fact, healing children with pediatric cancer has become an urgent mission for the providers, staff and researchers at Phoenix Children's Hospital. When Patrick Soon-Shiong, M.D., asked Phoenix Children's to serve as the lead of the Cancer Moonshot 2020 Pediatric Consortium, we accepted the charge with enthusiasm and an earnest desire to fulfill the Moonshot vision.

Cancer Moonshot 2020 aims to accelerate genomics and proteomics as the next-generation standard of personalized treatment for cancer patients, ultimately developing an effective vaccine-based immunotherapy for cancer by 2020.

In the pediatric consortium, our work centers on the bench-to-bedside translation of genomic studies to prevent, treat and manage pediatric diseases, first in cancer and then in other conditions. Phoenix Children's is joined by eight other children's hospitals in this effort.

The pediatric consortium is based at the Chan Soon-Shiong Children's Precision Medicine Institute at Phoenix Children's Hospital, where we have laid the groundwork for advancing precision medicine and offer whole genome sequencing, RNA sequencing and proteomics. Among our efforts at the Institute:

  • Phoenix Children's Biospecimen Sciences Program has been accredited by the College of American Pathology (CAP), one of only three children's hospitals nationwide with a CAP-accredited biorepository.
  • We are working toward certification from the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA), making Phoenix Children's the only children's hospital with CAP accreditation and CLIA certification.
  • Our technology infrastructure includes a High Performance Computing Platform for rapid transfer of genomic data; and a comprehensive cancer population management platform, designed not just to collect and analyze clinical data, but to assist in the comprehensive clinical management of patients' lives.

Our work is just beginning. Working in tandem with oncologists and researchers across the nation, our aim is to provide new hope for childhood cancer patients and the families who love them.

Robert L. Meyer, is president and CEO of Phoenix Children's Hospital. Send questions or comments to magazine@childrenshospitals.org.