Valley Children’s Receives Historic $15 Million Gift to Create Advanced Cell Therapy Program for Pediatric Cancer

Valley Children’s Receives Historic $15 Million Gift to  Create Advanced Cell Therapy Program for Pediatric Cancer

Valley Children’s Healthcare today announced a historic donation of $15 million that will significantly enhance the hospital’s ability to provide the most advanced bone marrow transplant and chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy treatments to kids with cancer in the Central Valley.

The new program will eliminate the need to refer patients who need these advanced treatments to the few facilities in Los Angeles or the Bay Area that can provide them.

“This gift will bring transformational cancer therapies directly to the children whose families look to us to provide them with the best care in the country,” said Todd Suntrapak, president and CEO of Valley Children's Healthcare. “Children who need these advanced therapies will no longer have to travel long distances and spend extended days away from home to get treatment and will be able to receive life-saving therapies in a familiar setting, with their families close by.”

CAR T-cell therapy is an advanced genetically engineered therapy that uses the body’s natural immune system to fight cancer and infections. The therapy involves genetically modifying a patient’s own disease-fighting T-cells with additional receptors or proteins that allow the T-cells to “recognize” infected or cancerous cells and destroy them. In a key CAR T-cell study in 2021, approximately 60% of children who underwent CAR T-cell therapy were cancer-free after 5 years.

Autologous bone marrow transplants are used to treat certain forms of cancer in children by replacing diseased bone marrow cells with other, healthy marrow cells from their own body. The approach has been used with success for more than 50 years, marked by continual advances in the technique.

“These therapies are some of the most powerful weapons we have in our cancer-fighting arsenal, but they also require a combination of medical expertise and specialized equipment to deliver effectively,” said Dr. Vinod Balasa, medical director of Valley Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center. “With this amazing donation, Valley Children’s joins the ranks of the top children’s hospitals in the nation that can offer these therapies, as well as be among the first to have access to future advances. This is a life-saving advancement for our patients.”

The anonymous donation is one of the largest single donations in the more than 70-year history of Valley Children’s Healthcare. The gift will support not only the establishment and accreditation of the program but also operational funding for its first 10 years.

It will take three to four years to establish the program and achieve accreditation.

“This is exactly the kind of program we work hard to bring to the Central Valley in keeping with our mission and our unwavering commitment to expand access to care to the children of our region,” Suntrapak added. “Earning this historic gift is a testament to the amazing medical, nursing and support staff at Valley Children’s and reflects our reputation as a leader in children’s healthcare and the importance of our pediatric Cancer and Blood Disorders Center to the region.”

Bone marrow transplant as a treatment option for childhood cancer has been used for decades, said Dr. Balasa. In 2017, chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-Cell treatment was approved for advanced B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. To date, more than 2,000 children have received CAR T-cell therapy and 60% of them are alive and cancer free after 5 years. Without CAR T-cell therapy, it is likely that all of them would have died.

Valley Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center is consistently in the top 5-8% percent worldwide in patient enrollment to the Children’s Oncology Group (COG), the world’s largest organization devoted to childhood cancer research. As a member of COG, Valley Children’s has access to more than 90 protocols to treat our patients with the most common to some of the rarest pediatric cancers.

However, until the donation, the hospital has had to send patients to Los Angeles or the Bay Area for cell therapies, including bone marrow transplants and CAR T-cell treatments.

“Because of this important donation, we will be able to establish a life-saving cellular and gene therapy program at Valley Children’s. This is truly a momentous day for our hospital and the Central Valley community,” Dr. Balasa added.

Return To Previous Page