As we reflect in this season of gratitude, MSK Kids, the pediatric cancer program at Memorial Sloan Kettering, is grateful for our pediatric patients and their families. We’re also thankful for how far we’ve come in treating pediatric cancers. Some of the most inspiring stories over the last few years have been those of children diagnosed with forms of pediatric cancer. Many children are thriving, beating the odds that once were stacked up against them. Patients just like Rihanna.
Rihanna was born with a tumor on her upper right arm almost as large as her head. After chemotherapy failed to shrink it, her parents brought her to MSK Kids, hoping for a different outcome. The MSK Kids team determined that Rihanna’s cancer was caused by a mutation in a gene called NTRK and focused her care plan on shutting off the cancer-driving effects of that mutation.
At the time, MSK Kids pediatric oncologist Neerav Shukla was leading a clinical trial for larotrectinib (Vitrakvi®), a drug that specifically targets NTRK. Within days of starting Rihanna on the drug, her tumor began to shrink. Five months later, the remaining tumor was removed, allowing Rihanna to have full function of her arm. Now almost 4, she shows no sign of the disease.
Rihanna’s story illustrates the power of precision medicine. This practice is grounded in uncovering the genetic changes that drive a tumor’s growth and then finding the best drugs to stop them. MSK has been at the forefront of this pioneering research. Over the past two decades, precision medicine has helped many adults, but the progress has been slower for children. MSK Kids is changing that: A major effort is underway to fully deliver on the promise of precision medicine for our youngest patients. Successfully treating one child, like Rihanna, can do a lot to accelerate drug development to help many more kids. The trial she participated in resulted in the first ever tumor-agnostic simultaneous approval of larotrectinib for both children and adults with NTRK-driven tumors.
With all eyes on MSK Kids, we feel it’s our obligation to bring more awareness to our youngest and most vulnerable patients here at MSK and around the world. Rihanna recently took part in the MSK Kids campaign. She and her family made a trip into New York City to see her picture in Penn Station where millions will see and be impacted by her story and her radiant smile. We are grateful for patients like Rihanna who have entrusted us with their care and helped shape outcomes for other families as well as raise awareness for the need for pediatric cancer research funding.
To donate to MSK Kids, please visit: https://giving.mskcc.org/MSK-Kids.