A Pfizer drug used to treat adults with lung cancer has also shown promise in rare childhood cancers, raising hopes for a new targeted treatment approach to these diseases.

Xalkori (crizotinib), which targets mutations of the ALK gene, was shown to eradicate disease or shrink tumours in some children with anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL) or a rare form of neuroblastoma. 

Findings from the Phase I trial, which were unveiled ahead of the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting which kicks off next month, showed that out of eight children with ALCL, seven had complete responses, with no cancer detected on imaging scans. 

In addition, out of twenty-seven patients taking part in the trial with neuroblastoma, two achieved a complete remission, the researchers said.

On the back of these promising results the Children's Oncology Group is now planning a larger scale trial to further address Xalkori in this setting.

"Abnormal ALK activity occurs in subtypes of neuroblastoma and subtypes of lymphoma, so identifying ALK activity in individual patients may enable us to provide the most effective care," commented study leader, Yael Mosse, a pediatric oncologist at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.