August 12, 2015 -- Cannonball Kids' cancer Awards $100,000 Research Grant for "First-In-Children" Immunotherapy Clinical Trial

ORLANDO, Fla., August 12, 2015 – Cannonball Kids’ cancer (CKc), a non-profit organization dedicated to eradicating pediatric cancer, today presented its first research grant for $100,000 to Dr. Theodore Johnson, M.D., Ph.D., and his team at Georgia Regents University (GRU) Cancer Center in Augusta, Ga., to help fund a first-in-children, phase one pediatric brain cancer immunotherapy clinical trial which has the potential to impact how brain and other childhood cancers are treated in the near future.

“This isn’t just funding research, this is funding a future for our kids. If we don’t fight for them, no one will. Cannonball Kids’ cancer may only be one year old, but we believe we are David and we plan to take down Goliath!” said CKc co-founder, Melissa Wiggins.

Children with relapsed or progressive brain tumors currently have a dismal prognosis and few treatment options. Through Dr. Johnson’s new trial, these children will have new immunotherapy treatment options, which also have the potential to change the paradigm of how pediatric cancer is treated. The immune system is naturally able to identify and destroy cancer cells. In order for cancer to grow, it must evade or disable the immune system. The body has checkpoint pathways, including one called IDO (indoleamine 2, 3dioxygenase). Tumors, or cancer cells, use the IDO enzyme in the body to escape the body’s natural ability to kill the cancer. Dr. Johnson and the team at GRU Cancer Center have developed a drug, indoximod, which blocks the IDO, allowing the immune system to do its job – fight cancer cells. Immunotherapy is currently being used to treat some types of pediatric cancers; however it is only now being used to treat pediatric brain cancers. 

“Brain tumors are the most common solid tumors in children with more than 3,500 new cases each year. More children die each year from brain tumors, nearly 2,700 per year, than any other cancer,” said Dr. Johnson. “Immunotherapy treats cancer by enlisting the body’s own immune system to specifically seek out cancer cells and eliminate them, ideally leaving normal tissue undamaged. Immunotherapy is more natural and potentially less toxic than ‘high-dose’ chemotherapy, and it is likely to work better in children because their underlying immune systems are stronger than adult immune systems. Funding from organizations like Cannonball Kids’ cancer is critical to advancing innovative immunotherapy research in children.”
 “We are incredibly pleased and proud to be able to partner with Cannonball Kids’ cancer,” said Dr. Samir Khleif, Director of the GRU Cancer Center. “Dr. Johnson's research is a reflection of the level of excellent discovery occurring at the GRU Cancer Center, allowing us to help our patients with the latest innovations of new therapies for adults and pediatrics. More than merely a validation of the kind of innovative research and patient care we consider so important to our youngest patients, this partnership represents continued growth within our Cancer Center family something we see as foundational for our continued success."

In early 2015, the CKc board of directors met with several CEOs of established nonprofit organizations dedicated to childhood cancer to best determine where its research grant would have maximum impact. Dr. Johnson’s research study stood out to the CKc board after their meeting with Jay and Liz Scott, co-executive directors of Alex’s Lemonade Stand. 

“Dr. Johnson’s clinical trial was especially striking to us. We knew this was our guy. Dr. Johnson is going to make a footprint in pediatric immunotherapy and we are going to help him help kids around world,” said CKc co-founder, Michael Wiggins. 

Funds were raised through a variety of grass-roots efforts including community-wide events, school fundraisers, CKc Card Club events, golf tournaments, online and personal donations, ballroom dancing events, and proceeds from the sale of the book, “Thankful For The Fight”, written by the Wiggins family about their journey to save Cannon’s life. Events and fundraisers have been held both domestically and internationally, reaching as far as Hong Kong.  

“Our hearts are so grateful for each and every dollar and every person who donated funds to join our fight against childhood cancer. Every one, ten, hundred or thousand dollar donation was critical to us successfully reaching our goal of raising $100,000 in our first year. When the donations are added up, the total impact we have is incredible,” said Melissa Wiggins.

“Our team is devoted and dedicated to finding a cure for childhood cancer. Go big or go home is our motto. This is just the beginning,” stated CKc chief executive officer, Ashley VanDerMark.

Based in College Park, Fla., Cannonball Kids' cancer was founded in June 2014 by Michael and Melissa Wiggins, parents of Cannon Wiggins. When Cannon was 20 months old, he was diagnosed with Stage IV high-risk neuroblastoma. During the treatment of Cannon, Michael and Melissa learned so little time, effort and funding is devoted to finding cures for children's cancer compared to adult cancers, and as a result, children are unnecessarily and unjustly lost. CKc aims to stop the tragic reality of children suffering and dying because of the lack of research in the world of children's cancer treatments.  

 [The “c” in cancer in the name Cannonball Kids’ cancer is intentionally lowercase to give the word cancer an inferior status.]