RCI’s Libutti says $10M appropriation will greatly advance pediatric cancer research

State funding will be used to support establishment of Pediatric Cancer Center

Rutgers Cancer Institute Director Dr. Steven Libutti was thrilled to see the 2022 state budget included a $10 million appropriation that will support the establishment of the Pediatric Cancer Center.

“As New Jersey Jersey’s only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, our mission is to conduct cutting-edge research and translate those findings into new and improved therapies,” LIbutti said. “This is a huge step forward to ensure that our pediatric cancer researchers have the funding necessary to continue to advance pediatric cancer research and care.

“We are extremely grateful for this support, as well as all of the continued support provided by the Legislature and governor.”

Currently, fewer than 5% of federal funding for cancer research is dedicated specifically to understanding and seeking cures for pediatric cancer, and only two drugs targeting childhood cancer have been approved in the past 20 years, according to the American Cancer Society.

The American Cancer Society also predicts approximately 10,500 children in the U.S. under the age of 15 will be diagnosed with cancer this year. While cancer survival rates for children have improved significantly over the past 50 years, cancer remains the leading cause of death from disease among children.

Libutti said the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, which operates in partnership with RWJBarnabas Health, is determined to be a leader in pediatric cancer research and care. It has the support of Gov. Phil Murphy as well as the Legislature.

The bipartisan legislation was sponsored by Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) and Sen. Anthony Bucco (R-Denville).

“New Jersey is a leader in the fight against cancer, but we know that more research will help to identify ways to prevent and treat pediatric cancers,” Sweeney said. “Additional support for pediatric cancer research is a top priority, so that we can continue to make progress to reduce cancer incidence and improve outcomes for young cancer victims.

“This funding will support the establishment of the Pediatric Cancer Center at the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey so we can increase awareness, support more research and work for a cure to a disease that impacts so many.”

The funding was championed by Grace Eline, a 12-year-old survivor of brain cancer and childhood cancer awareness advocate who was treated at Rutgers Cancer Institute and RWJBarnabas Health, and her mother, Aubrey Eline, in collaboration with the American Childhood Cancer Organization.

The ACCO is the nation’s oldest and largest grassroots organization dedicated to childhood cancer and spearheaded the movement to increase investment in pediatric cancer research in all 50 states.

“Cancer is the No. 1 disease-related cause of death for children in America. In spite of that, currently, 29 states have no mention of childhood cancer in their state cancer action plan as identified by the American Childhood Cancer Organization’s landscape analysis,” ACCO CEO Ruth Hoffman said.

“Most cancer research at the national and state level is dedicated to adult cancers. Through advocates like Grace Eline and her mom, we are grateful for the collaboration with Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey to prioritize the inclusion of pediatric cancer research in the New Jersey state cancer budget.”

Dr. Peter Cole, chief of pediatric hematology/oncology and Embrace Kids Foundation Endowed Chair in Pediatric Hematology/Oncology at Rutgers Cancer Institute and professor of pediatrics at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, said the funding will have huge impact.

“This funding will be transformational in continuing to advance our research and treatment for children with cancer,” he said. “Funds dedicated to pediatric cancer research will allow researchers to broaden our scientific understanding, raise survival rates, improve quality of life and allow us to continue to offer an array of investigational treatments to pediatric cancer patients at Rutgers Cancer Institute.”